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Slate Magazine published something remarkable this week - and I'm not referring to the drivel about you being evil for wanting to give your kid the best education available. No, in this case, remarkable is a good thing. On Friday, they actually ran an article by Hanna Rosin called The Gender Wage Gap Lie, with this subtitle: "You know that 'women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar' line you’ve heard a hundred times? It’s not true."
The article starts out with something fairly obvious that constantly gets blurred and distorted in our short attention span sound bite world:
How many times have you heard that “women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men”? Barack Obama said it during his last campaign. Women’s groups say it every April 9, which is Equal Pay Day. In preparation for Labor Day, a group protesting outside Macy’s this week repeated it, too, holding up signs and sending out press releases saying “women make $.77 to every dollar men make on the job.” I’ve heard the line enough times that I feel the need to set the record straight: It’s not true.
The official Bureau of Labor Department statistics show that the median earnings of full-time female workers is 77 percent of the median earnings of full-time male workers. But that is very different than “77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.” The latter gives the impression that a man and a woman standing next to each other doing the same job for the same number of hours get paid different salaries. That’s not at all the case. “Full time” officially means 35 hours, but men work more hours than women. That’s the first problem: We could be comparing men working 40 hours to women working 35.
It seems quite obvious that we should be comparing hourly wage or average weekly wages, as opposed to median salary. After all, there are so many variables that affect median salary - average time off taken, education levels, overall number of hours worked - all of which vary widely between the genders. Of course, this doesn't fit the narrative that a certain segment of the population needs some sort of regulatory intervention to be protected from those big bad men unfairly making more than them, but I digress. Rosin notes that when you compare weekly average wages and normalize for a 40 hour work week, the wage gap narrows to 87%.
But wait, there's more. Rosin goes even further, citing a study done by two economists at Stanford:
But we’re still not close to measuring women “doing the same work as men.” For that, we’d have to adjust for many other factors that go into determining salary. Economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn did that in a recent paper, “The Gender Pay Gap.”.”They first accounted for education and experience. That didn’t shift the gap very much, because women generally have at least as much and usually more education than men, and since the 1980s they have been gaining the experience. The fact that men are more likely to be in unions and have their salaries protected accounts for about 4 percent of the gap. The big differences are in occupation and industry. Women congregate in different professions than men do, and the largely male professions tend to be higher-paying. If you account for those differences, and then compare a woman and a man doing the same job, the pay gap narrows to 91 percent. So, you could accurately say in that Obama ad that, “women get paid 91 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.”
Rosin wraps up the article by speculating, as other economists have, that women simply make different career choices than men. Combined with the career interruptions that are far more common among women than men during the child bearing years, it intuitively makes sense that lifetime earnings and median wage will be lower for women - and it's not gender discrimination causing it. In the end, she says, "And in that more complicated discussion, you have to leave room at least for the option of choice—that women just don’t want to work the same way men do."
Slate Magazine, advocating for rational career choices by women. What's next, freedom of choice in education?