Why Do Women Make Less Than Men?

A questioner at Tuesday night’s presidential debate raised the age-old question. But the answer is more complicated than a two-minute response would allow.

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In the town hall presidential debate earlier this week, a young woman named Katherine Fenton asked the candidates: “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”

In response, conservatives wrote an anonymous hit piece in an online publication and pointed out that the same gap exists among White House staff. But it’s a reasonable question, if a bit misleading.

We’ve covered the question before in Women Make Only 75 Percent of What Men Make – Fact or Fiction? The short answer is that data don’t show women make 72 percent of what their male counterparts make. That’s unfortunately true among national average pay between the genders, but not when a man and woman have the same job.

A chart from Payscale (below) partially explains why. Women-dominated fields tend to pay less, and women are more likely to become stay at-home parents. But one partial answer Obama or Romney could have given is: “I’ll work on a federal law for paid maternity leave.” The U.S. is one of very few countries that doesn’t offer it.

Instead, Obama answered that the first bill he signed as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while Romney answered that he hired women as Massachusetts governor. You can read more about the candidates’ focus on women at the debate in The New York Times.

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