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  • Debate Analysis: Women's Pay Statistics Misleading

    When a questioner at Tuesday’s presidential debate stated that women make only 72 cents for every dollar that men make, both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney agreed. Not so fast. This figure is highly misleading.

    The statistic comes from a Census Bureau report (see figure 2 here) comparing the median earnings of men and women in full-time jobs. However, many factors affect pay—e.g., occupational choice, education, experience, and hours of work. Doctors make more than store clerks, no matter their gender. Employees who work longer hours tend to make more, too.

    The Census report ignores all such factors. So it can say nothing about whether men and women with the same level of job performance make the same amount.

    Women are more likely than men to work in industries with more flexible schedules. Women are also more likely to spend time outside the labor force to care for children. These choices have benefits, but they also reduce pay—for both men and women. When economists control for such factors, they find the gender gap largely disappears.

    A 2009 study commissioned by the Department of Labor found that after controlling for occupation, experience, and other choices, women earn 95 percent as much as men do. In 2005, June O’Neil, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that “There is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles.” Different choices—not discrimination—account for different employment and wage outcomes.

    For the same reason, the recession has hit men harder than it has women. Since the recession, net employment for men has fallen by over 3 million jobs. Female employment has fallen by less than half that amount. Put another way, the male unemployment rate is currently 0.5 percentage points higher than the female unemployment rate.

    No one would assert that anti-male bigotry explains the recession’s disproportionate impact. Rather, more men than women work in the construction, manufacturing, and finance sectors—the three sectors most affected by the recession. Without any discrimination, job losses in these sectors will still hit men harder.

    The 72-cent figure also gives an inaccurate impression of the opportunities available to aspiring career women. While some discrimination does occur, it is the exception, not the norm—and it’s also illegal. Federal and state laws already prohibit sex-based discrimination.

    Women have also made great strides in the workplace over the past generation. More women than men now earn bachelors and graduate degrees, and women now make up half the workforce. Hard-working women have many opportunities available to them. They should ignore misleading statistics that claim otherwise.

    The greatest threat to women’s opportunities today is the weak economy. Federal policy should be focused on enabling a robust, growing economy where free enterprise can flourish, thereby improving choices and opportunities for all workers. That will help get Americans—men and women—back to work.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Debate Analysis: Women's Pay Statistics Misleading

    1. Cherylp says:

      Thank you! I've been a working woman for 30 years and have always had the same pay plan as men doing the same job. However, I also took several years off work to start a family and had to come back into the workforce at a lower pay rate than had I not postponed those 5 years of employment.
      It is so sad to see the president and others try to keep women trapped in the role of victim! We ladies are every bit as powerful as our male counterparts and we'd better accept that and live and work accordingly or we are going to start backsliding into chattel status.

    2. JohnT says:

      Then what exactly is the issue with signing into law an equal pay for equal work bill? The Lilly Ledbetter act was already written and ready to sign and the Republicans opposed it for no good reason. Any businesses already paying fairly have been completely unaffected by the bill. The only reason I see to oppose it is to protect the executives of companies who have already had female employees sign contracts wit management that is no longer at those companies. To which I respond… too freakin' bad? Fix the pay and get on with your lives instead of spending millions lobbying against it.

    3. BostonClem says:

      However, there are industries where women make less. For example, the average salary for veterinarians has fallen as the field is dominated by women, and male veterinarians are still making far more money. Yes, the gender wage gap overall isn't extremely large, but it still exists, and the gap is still significant in many fields. Additionally, we must account for the fact that damaging cultural norms are at least part of the reason behind what fields of work women go into and the amount of pay those fields receive. These "choices" that women are making are not always actually choices at all in a culture like ours. Gender discrimination is still an issue, and it's far more complex than most people realize.

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