The In Depth series focuses on claims and statistics common in our modern political discourse. Most claims and statistics are far more complex than our leaders would have us believe. In this series, we will examine various issues in our ongoing political debate and take a deeper look.
Women’s pay, when compared with that of men, is a popular topic of discussion in our political discourse. The subject is so significant, in fact, that President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009 to make discriminatory compensation illegal—or, more accurately, to clear the way for litigation related to salary discrepancies.
At question is a statistic purporting to show that women are paid a mere $0.77 on the dollar compared to men with the same education doing the same job.
Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, published an editorial today in the Huffington Post supporting a law she introduced, the Paycheck Fairness Act. In the piece, she states, “Women across our country make just 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes with the same education doing the same job.” Thereafter, Mikulski begs the question: “That’s twenty-three percent less. But do women get a twenty-three percent discount at the grocery store? No. Do we get twenty-three percent off at the doctor’s office? No.”
According to Mikulski, the aforementioned Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act kept “the courthouse doors open” for litigation regarding pay discrimination. Still, her act is necessary because “[t]he wage gap has consequences that last a lifetime.”
But is it true?
An AAUW (American Association of University Women) study reportedly found that women earned 77% of what men earned in 2010. According to the study, the median income for women was $36,391 while men earned $47,715 annually. The study also broke down pay discrepancies based on demographic groups (e.g. black women made 70% of what white men earned and women in Wyoming earned just 64% on the dollar compared to men).
Yet, “When you collect all of the various factors…the differences between men and women become quite trivial,” said economist Thomas Sowell. According to Sowell, those factors include houhttp://www.nationalreview.com/articles/296147/message-mitt-ignore-itimesi-fair-pay-mona-charen?pg=2rs worked and continuous employment. Conservative columnist Mona Charen agreed, citing choice of profession and work experience, as well. The bottom line reason men earn more than women: childrearing.
According to Sowell, once we account for these various factors, pay differences between men and women are “negligible.” In fact, dating back to the 1960s, women college professors who were never married made more than male professors who were never married. Likewise, women past their child-bearing years tend to earn more than men.
Charen cited former head of the Congressional Budget Office, June O’Neill, who said that once we consider various factors, “the pay gap between men and women disappears.”
Moreover, Charen takes the analysis a step further, saying that women earn less than men “because they want to.”
A 2007 Pew survey found that 60% of women with minor children thought that part-time work was ideal. Including 19% who preferred not to work at all, nearly 80% of women valued time with their children more than working. That same Pew survey showed a discernible shift in the attitudes of mothers, noting a decline of those who wanted to work full-time from 32% to 21% between 1997 and 2007.
Ultimately, the 77% statistic is an oversimplification. Women, same as men, are not a monolithic group of people who behave homogenously. Men are more likely to be engineers—a rather high-paying profession—while women are more likely to quit working for several years before their kids go to school—something men are highly unlikely to do.
Still, politicians will continually trot out the 77% figure as gospel and proof that gender discrimination is the status quo. Yet, and despite the Lilly Ledbetter Act and numerous other pieces of legislation, Sen. Mikulski finds it necessary to use to simplified stat to promote additional legislation. While there may, indeed, be a discrepancy between male and female pay, a deeper look at the data shows a far less sinister reality than one might believe upon hearing “77%.”