Iwas very disappointed with the "Last Word" by Maria Brennan (see "When Will a Woman Earn What She's Worth?" on page 144 of the August issue). Equal opportunity does not mean equal outcomes. Surveys that show men earning 33 percent more than women are gross wage comparisons that fail to take into account underlying factors such as field of employment, work experience, continuous years in the labor force, daily hours of work, and personal choice. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth show that among people aged 27 to 33 who have never had a child, women's earnings approach 98 percent of men's earnings. The remaining 2 percent could be residual discrimination, or other factors not accounted for.

If a business could get the same level of performance from its staff and save 33 percent on wages by hiring only women, why would it hire any men at all? Does it make sense that even in today's competitive global economy, employers are willing to add so much to their salary expenses in order to satisfy some primeval male chauvinist urge? Can Brennan show any correlation between profitability and percentage of women in the workforce among exhibit management companies?

Women, as a group, earn less than men because they tend, as a group, to choose family over work. (I'm not going to touch the "Why don't men help with raising the kids?" debate. I'm an economist, not an anthropologist!)

Especially in the fast-paced, 24/7 conference and trade show field, you simply can't be a good parent and a good worker. Period. End of story.

Employees who work ridiculously long hours, are constantly on the road, and are always accessible and responsive to their boss's needs are going to advance farther and get paid more than the employees who save some of that time and energy for a family and social life, no matter what their gender.

Proof: In 1991, 30-year-old mothers earned 75 cents for every dollar earned by 30-year-old men; 30-year-old women who were not mothers earned 95 cents for every dollar. (Source: Jane Waldfogel, "Working Mothers Then and Now: Effects of Maternity Leave on Women's Pay, Gender and Family Issues in the Workplace," New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997).

Yes, sexual discrimination, like any kind of discrimination, is a bad thing when real. But pay inequality is not de facto proof of discrimination. Indeed, promoting universal pay equity will wind up hurting working mothers. Employers unable to pay workers according to their level of productivity will become reluctant to hire anyone but men. *