Today is apparently “equal pay day”—the alleged day of a new year through which a woman must work in order to earn the same pay as a man earned in the previous calendar year. Forget the impossibility of an annual equal pay day. If a woman had to work until April in 2014, she is already behind and will need to work until July this year. And so on.

Competition v. Wage Discrimination

If a male and a female have the exact same credentials and experience, perform the exact same job in the same place, log the exact same number of hours, and produce the exact same level and quality of output, it would certainly be fair for them to receive the exact same pay. If not, someone is overpaid or underpaid. Employers who pay males more than females for the same work are not maximizing profits, and those who underpay females risk losing quality employees to employers who don’t discriminate in pay. There’s little room in today’s competitive economy for pay discrimination. Employers who practice it will not only be less competitive, but also risk costly lawsuits because gender-based pay discrimination is already illegal.

Lower Earnings

Yes, women as a whole earn less than men, but discrimination is not the primary culprit. A whole host of reasons explain why women earn less on average than men, and these reasons are cause for celebration, not lament.

Women earn less than men because of the choices they make. They choose to work fewer hours and in more part-time positions. They tend to choose safer occupations and service-oriented jobs over dangerous professions and manual labor positions. They are more apt to earn art degrees over science and math degrees. They choose to take time out of the labor force to raise families, and they often choose flexible work schedules and better benefits over higher pay.

Legislative “Fix” Would Limit Choice

Legislation aimed at closing the so-called pay gap would take away many of these options—such as telecommuting, part-time work, and flexible schedules—that help women to achieve the work-life balance they desire. Equal paychecks require equal hours, equal benefits, and equal output. In other words, equal paychecks leave little room for individual choice. Some women have the luxury of choosing whether or not to work, but others don’t have that choice. Those who must work would lose the opportunity to fine-tune their work to fit their lifestyles, their interests, and their family commitments.

Taking away the choices that women and men have today through paycheck “fairness” legislation would be a step backward for equality.