The existence of a gap between the average wages paid to men and to women in the United States is well-documented. Given the significant implications in economics, sociology, politics and political science, gender studies, and other fields, this matter has been the focus of a great deal of academic study and official analysis; it has also received much attention in mainstream and social media, as well as in everyday discourse. In the following discussion, this sometimes contentious topic will be examined. In particular, it will be shown that one popularly held notion, the belief that the gap is completely (or very nearly completely) explicable as pure gender discrimination in wages paid to males and females with equal qualifications performing equal work, is not the case, although that unfortunate practice does evidently account for a small proportion of the gap.
This author's first encounter in an academic setting with the topic of gender pay disparity occurred in 1996, as a student in an undergraduate-level college course, Introductory Microeconomics, at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The professor, Robert A. Collinge, holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Maryland. He is the lead author of a well-regarded economics textbook, Economics by Design, which is presently published in its 3rd edition by Pearson Prentice Hall. Below are some excerpts from a preliminary edition of that text, which was used in the aforementioned 1996 course:
Concerns over discrimination in the labor market highlights the significance of earnings differentials between males and females. . . . [A] substantial fraction of earnings differences are explained by factors other than labor-market discrimination. . . .
The closing of the earnings gap in the 1980s is explained by women workers developing specialized job skills, thereby allowing women to move into professional and managerial jobs. . . .
[D]iscontinuous labor force participation . . . occurs when someone leaves and later reenters the labor force. Many women would leave their jobs after childbirth, and not return to work for several years. . . . This in-and-out pattern of labor participation caused women's human capital to depreciate, and reduced their years of labor-market experience relative to men. The effect was lower earnings. As more and more women stay in the labor force throughout their lives, their earnings have risen relative to those of men. . . .
Explanations for the remaining earnings gap focus on women's occupational choices. Many occupations are dominated by females. . . . Many of these female-dominated occupations pay less than the male-dominated ones. . . .
Selected Male-Dominated and Female-Dominated Occupations, 1993
Source: 1994 Statistical Abstract of the U.S., Table No. 637.
Male-dominated occupations (percent of workers who are males)
Construction workers (98.1)
Truck drivers (95.5)
Female-dominated occupations (percent of workers who are females)
Registered nurses (94.4)
Elementary school teachers (85.9)
Dental hygienists (99.3)
Telephone operators (86.9)
Child care workers (97.2)1
In 1980, differences in age, work experience, and current work status, and in the returns to those characteristics, accounted for 66 percent of the gender gap. Family status returns . . . accounted for 35 percent, while differences in educational levels and returns to education accounted for 12 percent. By 1991, while the overall gender gap had shrunk, family status had become more important than in 1980, accounting for 56 percent of the gap, with age and experience falling to 61 percent of the gap, and education falling to 7 percent. Overall, the share of the gender gap accounted for by differences in characteristics between men and women fell, reflecting women's gains in education and in work experience. . . .4
Through the years the gender gap in wages frequently has been a source of public concern and a puzzle to researchers. . . . In comparing the earnings of different demographic groups it is usually important to examine the effect of productivity differences between the groups that might account for any earnings differential. . . . [T]he main source of productivity differences between women and men stems from the lesser amount of time and energy that many women can commit to labor-market careers as a result of the division of labor within the family. . . . [W]omen are less likely than men to work continuously after leaving school and therefore are less likely to gain experience that can only be acquired on the job. In addition, anticipation of child-related work interruptions and the need to coordinate home responsibilities with market work are likely to in▀uence choice of occupation and type of Ůrm. . . . The expectation of withdrawals from the labor force and the need to work fewer hours during the week are likely to in▀uence the type of occupations that women train for and ultimately pursue. More subtle factors such as the level of stress at work and the ability to take unplanned time off for family emergencies are also likely to in▀uence the choice of occupation and workplace. Thus, certain characteristics of jobs may affect womens occupational choices because they are particularly compatible or incompatible with womens dual home/market roles. These adaptive occupational choices will tend to lower the market earnings of women relative to men. For example, some occupations require lengthy investment in skills with applicability only to highly specific market activities (e.g., aerospace engineer, surgeon, top management in large complex organizations). The payoff to such investments is obviously reduced when years in the labor force are reduced. Moreover, skills depreciate during periods of withdrawal from work (Jacob Mincer and Haim Ofek, 1982), and the rate of depreciation is likely to vary depending on the rate of technological change and obsolescence of the skills acquired. Fields such as physics, where knowledge depreciates rapidly have disproportionately fewer women. Other types of schooling and training are more general in their applicability to different situations and impart skills that are less prone to depreciate.
. . . .
For example, nursing and teaching skills are valuable to mothers and can be practiced widely in different settings with relatively little additional Ůrm-speciŮc training. Certain characteristics of the workplace are more compatible with womens home responsibilities than others. The depreciation in skills and earnings related to complete withdrawal from the labor force may be ameliorated by work situations that accommodate the need for less demanding work while raising a family. Part-time work is the most obvious manifestation of this adjustment. Even if a woman does not always work part-time she may be more likely to choose an occupation or job setting that provides a shorter or more ▀exible work week in the event it may be needed, or a more informal work setting where time off for unpredictable events is acceptable. Both work attachment and the choice of occupation are expected to be important determinants of womens earnings and important factors underlying the gender wage gap. . . .
As a number of studies have shown, there is evidence that the years of work experience of employed women increased during the 1980s (M. Anne Hill and ONeill, 1992). In fact, the narrowing of the work-experience gap was a key factor causing the gender wage gap to narrow during the 1980s (ONeill and Solomon Polachek, 1993; Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, 1997). . . .
Occupational characteristics explain a substantial portion of the wage gap. . . . The female/male wage ratio, adjusted for all model-2 variables, increased from 84 percent in 1983 to 90 percent in 2001; the unadjusted ratio rose from 70 percent to 80 percent over the same period. . . .
Actual work experience accounts for much of the gap. . . .
Understanding the gender gap in pay is important because even in the absence of any labor-market discrimination it is unlikely that the wage rates of women and men would be equal.5
Brooks Jackson is a journalist who has covered Washington and national politics since 1970, reporting in turn for the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and CNN. He joined the Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2003 and launched FactCheck.org in December of that year. At CNN, he pioneered the "adwatch" and "factcheck" form of stories debunking false and misleading political statements, starting with the presidential election of 1992. His investigative reporting for the AP and the Journal won several national awards. He is the author of three books: "Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process" (Knopf, 1988); "Broken Promise: Why the Federal Election Commission Failed" (Twentieth Century Fund, 1990); and "unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation" with Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Random House, 2007).Below are excerpts from Jackson's 2012 piece "Obamas 77-Cent Exaggeration":
[A] study prepared for the Bush administrations Labor Department, and released the week before Obama took office, stopped short of concluding that discrimination isnt holding down womens pay at least somewhat.The CONSAD report cited above is available here. The foreword to that CONSAD report was written by the U.S. Department of Labor. Some excerpts from the foreword are shown below:
That study, by CONSAD Research Corp., concluded that it wasnt possible to say precisely how much of the raw pay gap is explained by factors other than discrimination. But it added:
CONSAD study, January 12, 2009: Nevertheless, it can confidently be concluded that, collectively, those factors [not due to discrimination by employers] account for a major portion and, possibly, almost all of the raw gender wage gap.
Last year, looking at weekly earnings, the Labor Department put the figure at 81 cents on the dollar for 2010. It found that the median weekly earnings for women working full time at jobs paying a wage or salary was $669, compared with $824 for men. And although all these workers had normal work weeks of at least 35 hours (the minimum for "full time"), the Labor Department study noted that, for whatever reason, "men were more likely than women to have a longer workweek."
And things have improved a bit for women since then. The median weekly figure was 82 cents for the first three months of this year, continuing a long trend to a narrower gender pay gap.
Breaking last years figures down by occupation, the Institute for Womens Policy Research showed women doing the "same work" (that is, within the same occupational groupings) often make much more than 77 percent of their male counterparts median weekly earnings. The IWPR is affiliated with the graduate program in Public Policy and Womens Studies at the George Washington University and says it seeks "to address the needs of women."
So whether factors other than discrimination account for 60 percent of the gap, as the Obama administration official states, or "almost" all of it, as the Bush-era study concluded, the research points to some remaining anti-female bias by employers.
But the president was flatly wrong to say that women are paid 77 percent of the pay of men for the "same work." And the fact that womens median annual earnings are 77 percent of mens isnt all or even mostly due to discrimination, as the ad implies.6
[T]he raw wage gap continues to be used in misleading ways to advance public policy agendas without fully explaining the reasons behind the gap. The purpose of this report is to identify the reasons that explain the wage gap in order to more fully inform policymakers and the public. . . .Immediately underneath this paragraph is the signature of Charles E. James, Sr., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Federal Contract Compliance, U.S. Department of Labor.
There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4 percent, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent. . . .
Research also suggests that differences not incorporated into the model due to data limitations may account for part of the remaining gap. . . .
Although additional research in this area is clearly needed, this study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.7
The Gender Pay Gap is a Complete Myth
There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap
A study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that women earned 8% more than men.
Tuesday is Equal Pay Dayso dubbed by the National Committee for Pay Equity, which represents feminist groups including the National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, the National Council of Women's Organizations and others. The day falls on April 12 because, according to feminist logic, women have to work that far into a calendar year before they earn what men already earned the year before.
In years past, feminist leaders marked the occasion by rallying outside the U.S. Capitol to decry the pernicious wage gap and call for government action to address systematic discrimination against women. This year will be relatively quiet. Perhaps feminists feel awkward protesting a liberal-dominated governmentor perhaps they know that the recent economic downturn has exposed as ridiculous their claims that our economy is ruled by a sexist patriarchy.
The unemployment rate is consistently higher among men than among women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.3% of men over the age of 16 are currently out of work. The figure for women is 8.3%. Unemployment fell for both sexes over the past year, but labor force participation (the percentage of working age people employed) also dropped. The participation rate fell more among men (to 70.4% today from 71.4% in March 2010) than women (to 58.3% from 58.8%). That means much of the improvement in unemployment numbers comes from discouraged workersparticularly male onesgiving up their job searches entirely.
Men have been hit harder by this recession because they tend to work in fields like construction, manufacturing and trucking, which are disproportionately affected by bad economic conditions. Women cluster in more insulated occupations, such as teaching, health care and service industries.
Yet if you can accept that the job choices of men and women lead to different unemployment rates, then you shouldn't be surprised by other differenceslike differences in average pay.
Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.
The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statisticsare willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinksor even reverseswhen relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.
Should we celebrate the closing of the wage gap? Certainly it's good news that women are increasingly productive workers, but women whose husbands and sons are out of work or under-employed are likely to have a different perspective. After all, many American women wish they could work less, and that they weren't the primary earners for their families.
Few Americans see the economy as a battle between the sexes. They want opportunity to abound so that men and women can find satisfying work situations that meet their unique needs. Thatnot a day dedicated to manufactured feminist grievanceswould be something to celebrate.9
1 Collinge, Robert A. and Ronald M. Ayers, Economics by Design, Chapters 110, preliminary ed. (Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996), pp. 8-18 8-19.
2 May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, United States, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm).
3 Waldfogel, Jane, "Understanding the 'Family Gap' in Pay for Women with Children, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Winter 1998), p. 137 (http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/mfinney/courses/491/hand/family.pdf).
4 Ibid, pp. 14748.
5 O'Neill, June Ellenoff, "The Gender Gap in Wages, circa 2000" in The American Economic Review, Vol. 93, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the One Hundred Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association, Washington, DC, January 3-5, 2003 (May, 2003), pp. 309-314 (entire article may be viewed at http://www.tmbc.com/newsletters/tweets/wagesGap.pdf).
6 Jackson, Brooks, "Obamas 77-Cent Exaggeration," 22 June 2012 on "The Wire" at FactCheck.org, A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania.
7 James, Charles E., Sr., "Foreword by the U.S. Department of Labor" (prefacing "An Analysis of Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women: Final Report," prepared for U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration, prepared by CONSAD Research Corporation, 12 Jan 2009), pp. 12.
8 Tobak, Steve, "The Gender Pay Gap is a Complete Myth," CBS MONEYWATCH, 8 March 2011, updated 17 Apr 2011 (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-gender-pay-gap-is-a-complete-myth/).
9 Lukas, Carrie, "There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap," The Wall Street Journal, 12 Apr 2011 (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704415104576250672504707048).