Our Choices, Our Wage Gap?


According to recent empirical studies, much, if not all, of the gender wage gap is attributable to individual choice. Women tend to choose lower-paying jobs and to prioritize family over career while men tend to do the opposite. This has led some policymakers to conclude that the gender wage gap does not require rectification. Although feminists have typically responded by refuting the empirical claim, I argue in this essay that they should also refute the normative claim. In particular, individual choice does not exonerate the gender wage gap if the options from which women and men choose are biased in favor of men. Yet, despite extensive research on individual choice, virtually no attention has been paid to the effect of the state's choice of regulatory regime on the gender wage gap. In this essay, I suggest some of the mechanisms—e.g., licensing laws and scope of practice restrictions—that could potentially bias wages in favor of men.