It’s Equal Pay Day – But Is the Gender Gap Real?

Photo (cc) by elias_daniel

Tuesday, April 9, has been labeled “Equal Pay Day.” It’s to draw attention to the fact that men are paid more than women — a fact recognized by everyone from President Obama to “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg.

But is it real?

Read the following statement from the National Women’s Law Center, then decide what it means.

The typical American woman who works full time, year round is paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart. This gap in earnings translates into $11,084 less per year in median earnings, leaving women and their families shortchanged.

Now, what is this paragraph telling you?
A. A woman, identical in every job-related respect other than sex, is paid less than a man to do the same job.
B. Women, on average, take home less money than men.

The implications of these answers are radically different. If it’s A, you could be looking at illegal discrimination. But if it’s B, it’s inconclusive. If men average more take-home pay than women, there could be lots of reasons. It could be illegal discrimination. But if male-dominated jobs (construction) pay more than female-dominated jobs (teaching), it’s possible nothing’s amiss. Likewise if the average male has more seniority than the average female, or a higher level of education.

In short, the lone fact that someone makes more than you doesn’t mean a thing until you know why.

So, which answer did you pick?

You could certainly be forgiven for picking A. In fact, the way the statement is worded, you’re pushed in that direction. It says, “… is paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart,” implying a male in the same job.

The correct answer, however, is B. The “77 cents to a man’s dollar” argument is based on the average earnings of all women versus the average earnings of all men without regard for what they’re doing for a living, how long they’ve been doing it, or any other factor that influences earnings. It’s ridiculous.

If we’re going to address wage discrimination, shouldn’t we do it honestly?

I wrote about this two years ago in a post called “Women Make Only 75 Percent of What Men Make – Fact or Fiction?” and others have as well. But this distortion of the facts seems unwilling to die.

Here’s how a recent article begins on Huff Post Women called “Don’t Just Get Mad About the Gender Pay Gap, Do Something on Equal Pay Day!

Another year has passed, and yet the pay gap remains stubbornly in place. Today, it stands at 23 cents, meaning that women, on average, are paid 77 percent of what men are paid — an average that’s even lower for black and Hispanic/Latina women.

Myth perpetuated.

Myth combated: From a recent article on Time’s website:

Let’s first dispense with the fallacy that the pay-gap ratios so often cited are for women and men doing the same job. They are not. If they were, then a female marketing account manager making $77,000, while her male colleague with the same title and work experience makes $100,000, would have a very good case to sue her employers under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which protects men and women from sex discrimination in pay rates. The pay-gap ratios don’t even refer to men and women in the same occupation.

Is the gender gap real?

Perhaps you think that, because I’m a male, I’m claiming wage discrimination doesn’t exist. Not at all – I suspect it does.

But there’s a problem with using fuzzy math to draw attention to gender inequality. Namely, it allows those so inclined to dismiss what could be a legitimate complaint.

Credible evidence regarding wage discrimination does exist. For example, the author of the Huff Post article references a study that provides evidence of sexual bias among university science faculty. From the abstract:

In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student — who was randomly assigned either a male or female name — for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.

Findings like these warrant discussion. But comparing apples to oranges serves to obfuscate, rather than illuminate, the problem.

If you’re interested in understanding the gender gap, start with the Wikipedia page called “Male-female income disparity in the United States.” It points to lots of studies, but don’t expect a cut and dried, definitive answer because many studies conflict with one another.

For example, the Wikipedia page cites a 2003 study from the Government Accountability Office:

The researchers controlled for “work patterns,” including years of work experience, education, and hours of work per year, as well as differences in industry, occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure. With controls for these variables in place, the data showed that women earned, on average, 20 percent less than men during the entire period 1983 to 2000.

A couple of paragraphs later:

Economist June O’Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found an unexplained pay gap of 8% after controlling for experience, education, and number of years on the job. Furthermore, O’Neill found that among young people who have never had a child, women’s earnings approach 98 percent of men’s.

The bottom line

Today you’re going to see a lot of headlines and hear a lot of reporters claim women earn 77 cents for every dollar men make. While that might make for a great sound bite, the math is fuzzy and the comparison is silly.

If you’re seriously interested in the problem, ignore the hype and dig a little deeper. Arm yourself with the facts. Then, if you don’t like what you see, do something about it.

Whether it’s based on race, religion, or sex, discrimination has no place in America. But neither does faulty logic and bad journalism.

So, what do you think? Is the gender gap real? Have you encountered it? Offer your opinion or tell us your stories below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
8 Things You Can Buy for $1 or Less on Amazon
8 Things You Can Buy for $1 or Less on Amazon

They say you get what you pay for — but not always. Sometimes, you can uncover a good deal at a great price.

8 Award-Winning Products That Impressed 40,000 Shoppers
8 Award-Winning Products That Impressed 40,000 Shoppers

The Product of the Year awards help shoppers find the best pet products, personal care items and everything in between.

How to Buy a Refrigerator, Step by Step
How to Buy a Refrigerator, Step by Step

Here’s how I got the perfect appliance at the perfect price.

Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off
Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off

A common behavior becomes increasingly dangerous for those who are 50 or older.

3 Ways to Get Paid for Searching the Web
3 Ways to Get Paid for Searching the Web

If you’re already doing it anyway, why not get rewarded for it? Here are three great opportunities.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk
Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk

A new study finds that wearing a cloth mask can backfire if you don’t clean it properly.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.