Turn off your TVs, log out of Facebook, Wisconsin has repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act of 2009, and things are about to get real stupid for a while.
Let's get the basic, non-controversial stuff out of the way:
Discrimination is bad.
People should be paid the same for doing the same work, regardless of gender.
If you pay someone less because they're a woman, you are bad and you should feel bad.
The last part is actually where some people get tripped up. Paying a woman less money than a man isn't bad. Paying her less because she's a woman is. What's the difference?
Well, paying her less because she holds a completely different job is not bad. The fact that a woman gets paid less is not inherently bad, it matters a great deal why they get paid less.
Enter the wage gap. Women make, depending on who you ask, 3-30% less than men. The disparity comes from what numbers are used in the comparison. The 30% wage gap comes from just looking at total dollars earned. The 3% gap comes from controlling for job title, industry, GPA, experience, hours worked, etc. 3% is the wage gap for doing the same work. (It's sometimes calculated as high as 5%).
Unequal pay for equal work is pretty rare. But, the fact that a wrong is rare certainly isn't a reason to repeal a law. Aggravated kidnapping is less common, but we're not going to take that off the books.
What is common is unequal pay for unequal work. And where stuff gets really messy is that unequal work has any number of different causes. Sure, some companies have sexist managers who refuse to promote women. Other companies have male workers who more aggressively pursue promotions. Women are more likely to get a degree in education, men are more likely to get one in engineering. Women are more likely to pursue a secretarial position, while men are more likely to become king crab fishermen or ice road truckers. Children of well off parents are more likely to be well off themselves, and tall men make more money, and also have more sons, and so the offspring of higher-earning men are more likely to be higher-earning men themselves.
On the one hand, we have a law designed to fix a rather small disparity, and on the other hand we have a larger disparity that the law was never designed to address. But, what you're more likely to hear from your favorite news outlet (unless we're you're favorite news outlet) is that this law is connected to that bigger disparity. It isn't. If you want to correct the bigger problem, pass a law that requires teaching to be as dangerous and unfulfilling as mining.
The other bit of stupidity that's going to get a lot of air time comes from the remarks of Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman:
You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious.
Money matters more to men?
That's actually true.
For women, money mostly provides creature comforts. Food, shelter, a bit of security.
For men, money provides those creature comforts, but also has another very important affect. It increases their chances of getting married (or just getting laid, depending on priorities). Sure, there are some women who will love you just the way you are no matter how much money you make. But, there is a significantly larger number of women who at least expect to be taken out for a few dates, and who care about financial stability and making sure her children will get to go to college. It's easier to get a woman while making $300,000 than $30,000.
Don't think that's true? Ask women what they look for in a man. If a good sense of humor isn't the top trait, it'll be in the top three. Then, ask the average standup comic making $50 a night how many girls try to sleep with him after the show.
It's also far more socially acceptable for a woman to be supported by her husband or by her parents, putting less pressure on them to make a lot of money.
Whether you think this is how it should be or not, the fact is that money is of greater utility to men than to women. They have a greater incentive to get money, so it stands to reason that they will compete harder for it and will end up getting more of it.
Grothman's comment, from an evolutionary psychology perspective, is entirely correct.
It's also entirely off point. That in general men will devote more time and energy to making money is absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether a man and a woman devoting the same time and energy to the same task ought to receive the same compensation. They should be paid the same, and the ratio of men to women actually doing the same work doesn't matter.
Short version: the wage gap is incredibly complex, the result of some discrimination, some societal norms, and some freely made choices.