A Closer Look at the Pay-Gap Myth

by Colette Moran

Last week I wrote about an article in Verily magazine that pointed to the main reason women are earning less than men: Women are choosing a more fulfilling life over a larger paycheck. I found two articles that take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the notion that women earn less purely because of discrimination.

The first from Mark J. Perry at AEI challenged a line from an election ad that President Obama used during last year’s campaign: ”President Obama knows that women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn’t just unfair, it hurts families.” The National Committee on Pay Equity supported the claim in this way.

The wage gap exists, in part, because many women and people of color are still segregated into a few low-paying occupations. Part of the wage gap results from differences in education, experience or time in the workforce. But a significant portion cannot be explained by any of those factors; it is attributable to discrimination. In other words, certain jobs pay less because they are held by women and people of color.

But, of course, the data just doesn’t support that. Perry picks apart each part of this claim with specific data, but if the numbers get a little hard to follow, the summation is crystal clear.

To claim that a significant portion of the raw wage gap can only be explained by discrimination is intellectually dishonest and completely unsupported by the empirical evidence. And yet we hear all the time from groups like the National Committee on Pay Equity, the American Association of University Women, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and President Obama, President Jimmy Carter and Terry McAuliffe that “women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.” And in most cases when that claim is made, there is almost no attention paid to the reality that almost all of the raw, unadjusted pay differentials can be explained by everything except discrimination – hours worked, age, marital status, children, years of continuous experience, workplace conditions, etc. In other words, once you impose the important condition of “all other things being equal or held constant,” the gender pay gap that we hear so much about doesn’t really exist at all.

The other article by Alison Griswold at Business Insider points out that women are making far more than men when it comes to part-time jobs. 

Female part-time workers earned $10 more in median weekly salaries than their male counterparts did in 2012, according to a new study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS defines part-time work as less than 35 hours per week spent on a sole or principal job.

Griswold then offers this quote from Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic:

Women, including highly educated professionals, tend to cut their hours once they have families, especially if their husband has a higher salary. Men, meanwhile, are more likely to keep working a full week. And so part-time women, as a group, are somewhat more likely to have gone to college, and far less likely to have dropped out of high school, than part-time men, who may well be working shorter shifts for lack of better options.

Griswold then lists other reasons why it appears women earn more in part-time jobs and offers the chart below.

chart_1 (1)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics