Women Make only 75 Percent of What Men Make – Fact or Fiction?

Last night NBC’s Savannah Guthrie implied that women are paid only 75 percent of what men make for the same work. What she accomplished was to perpetuate the myth that women aren’t good with numbers.

March is Women’s History Month, something we’ll be reporting on shortly with a couple of different news stories, including Women and Money – 4 Myths and 5 Money Tips for Women.

I’m against any and all forms of discrimination, workplace or otherwise, but I was appalled last night to watch NBC’s Savannah Guthrie tell a story using math that wasn’t just fuzzy – it was flat-out wrong.

In this news story, Gutherie talks about the White House report issued yesterday called Women in America [PDF], which reveals the changing role of women in American society in areas ranging from income equality to domestic violence.

After offering up some good news – that women are now just as likely as men to have a college degree – Guthrie gives us the bad news, saying, “But the report says women are still paid about 75 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.”

That’s followed by three soundbites. The first comes from Valerie Jarrett, White House senior adviser. She says, “It’s one thing to know something intuitively. It’s very different to have evidence that actually backs it up. This report gives us that evidence.”

Her next soundbite comes from a woman on the street: “Disgusting…disgusting…aggravating…annoying. I find it all the time when I’m job hunting.”

Then this one from another woman on the street: “I don’t understand why that still exists in 2011.”

Now, let’s stop here. What did you just hear? Did you hear that women make only 75 percent of what men make for the same job? That’s certainly what’s implied: After all, the reporter said, “Women are still paid about 75 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.” But, in fact, that’s not what the numbers she’s quoting say.

The White House report presumably drew its numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. In this report, the Bureau provides some detail:

For full-time, year-round workers, the 2009 American Community Survey median earnings for women were 78.2 percent of men’s earnings – $35,549 compared with $45,485. As compared with 2008, median earnings for men were up from $45,161, median earnings for women were up from $35,104, and the ratio of women’s earnings to men’s earnings was up from 77.7.

In other words, the average overall annual earnings for women are less than the average overall annual earnings for men. What the Census Bureau doesn’t say is that women earn 75 percent of what men earn for the same job.

The reason women have lower average earnings than men is a complex topic (there’s a ton of information at this Wikipedia page) and some of it may certainly be due to wage discrimination. But other factors – like male-dominated professions (mechanics) earning more than female dominated ones (cosmetologists) – may also play a part.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not suggesting that sex-based wage discrimination is nonexistent in America. But for a national newscast to imply that females are being paid significantly less than their male counterparts for the same job, then stopping people on the street to get their reaction, is not only irresponsible and sensationalistic journalism: It diverts attention from a useful discussion.

Bottom line? Women overall take home less money than men every year: fact. Women only earn 75 cents for every dollar men earn for the same job: fiction.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • I work for a high profile Engineering company and women always make more than men. In fact, minorities in general make much more than white males in Engineering. Companies are constantly trying to diversify their engineering work force, which is 90% white male, so they go out of their way to entice smart female and minority candidates to work there. However, even though woman are making slightly more than the male counterparts in engineering they are also more likely to take off large amounts of time for child birth and maternity leave. Additionally, women are also more likely to leave a high paying engineering job to become a stay at home mother or a part-time stay at home mother. So from ages 24-35 I see a lot of women making the same or more than men in engineering, but after 35 it is hard to even find a women in engineering. So essentially it will always look like men are making more when experienced men in engineering are make well into the 100Ks and most women are dropping out of the work place before they ever get that high in salary. I believe that no one is paying women less on purpose, but the statistics will never tell us for sure what women are really making to a truely equivalent male counterpart.

  • “In other words, the average overall annual earnings for women are less than the average overall annual earnings for men.”

    Unfortunately, Stacy, that is not what the study said, either. The report is about the “median” not the “average.” The median simply means a single case for which the same number of women or men are being paid more as are being paid less. It’s like putting everyone’s yearly W-2 forms in two rows, girls and boys, and picking the ones in the middle with no regard for the job being done, the hours put in, or any other factor.

    Notice also that the figures compare the yearly income of full-time working men and women, not the hourly income. Why would advocates focus on yearly income? Well, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm] “among full-time workers (those usually working 35 hours or more per week), men worked longer than women–8.3 hours compared with 7.5 hours” per day. In other words, they work more, they get paid more. This 8.3 to 7.5 work gap would explain over half of the alleged wage disparity even if it were a legitimate comparison of average incomes.

    Which, of course, it isn’t.

    The rest of the supposed gap can be explained by differences in job types (men still suffer 90 percent of fatalities where they work, which you’d think would matter more than dimes on the dollar among people who value both sexes equally), by the skewing of a handful of super-rich men who do not represent the typical male experience and are not the result of the sort of systemic sexism that merits anti-discrimination legislation, and by conveniently ignoring part-time work for which BLS reports women are now paid better than men.

    This entire meme is nothing but a WMDs-in-Iraq style political scam intended to anger and energize women voters and men who want to play knight-in-shining-armor so they’ll vote and donate and rally the way the advocates, politicians, and activists want them to. It’s political fraud of the most shameless and cynical variety.

  • Tenley McHarg

    Stacy –
    I know it’s been months since you posted this, and there may be other responses to it, but I wanted to add this set of data for you.
    The BLS actually did break out median weekly pay by occupation and gender; while there are several occupations that do not have enough data to report, those that do tend to pay men more. The one thing this dataset does not show is whether the men in those occupations have, on average, a higher level of education than the women in those occupations. However, I think these data do lend some support that a man in the same job does, in general, make more than a woman in that job.
    In many cases, in fact, a woman makes less than 75% of what a man makes in that field. For example, the median for men marketing and sales managers is $1534 per week — whereas for women in that same occupation the  median is $1,010 a week, which is 66% of the men’s median. And, of course, there are cases where women make more than men: as counselors, for instance. In that case, though, men make 95% of the median of what women make in that profession — so not exactly the same wage gap.
    Here is the dataset for your perusal: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat39.txt
    I agree with you that there are many potential causes for why this might be, but keep in mind that the people in this dataset are full-time wage and salary workers, so part-time work can’t be one of them. It may be that women choose to work for non-profit agencies, which in general have to pay less, to get the benefit of a more relaxed schedule. Education, like mentioned above, might also be a contributing factor. Regardless of the cause, I do think it can be said that women in an occupation make less than men in the same occupation. Whether a 75% gap represents that, I can’t say.

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