March 6, 2009

Equal Pay

I've read several articles on how the oft-cited women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes statement is extremely misleading.

Last night, in an attempt to clarify why, I found the Bureau of Labor Statistics Highlights of Women's Earnings 2007. If this sort of thing interests you, the report is fascinating -- so much data.

The numbers definitely help support the idea that the pay gap is at least partially explained by lifestyle and career choices, and is not necessarily entirely gender-based pay discrimination. One thing the data cannot address, however, is time off. Women who take time out of the workforce to have children re-enter this data solely based on their age, and, from this data, there is no way to know just how many years of experience they have at that age.

What the numbers can tell us, however, is that unmarried women without children earn almost as much, on average, as unmarried men without children (96%) (table 8), and the median hourly wage for women with more than a bachelors degree is 95% of the median hourly wage for men with more than a bachelors degree (table 9).

The hours worked is a big factor -- for full-time positions requiring between 35-39 hours per week of work, women make 103.3% of the average male weekly wage (Table 5). For positions requiring over 40 or more hours per week, however, women's average weekly wage compared to men working similar hours hovers around 88%. (Table 5)

Interesting as well is part-time work, which no one ever talks about in terms of pay discrimination, despite the fact that women earn 108.3% of the average male weekly wage for part-time work (Table 5).

I suspect that if you accounted for the type of jobs selected, experience, and education, these disparities would start to make some sense. Of the full-time workers women hold 69% of the jobs requiring between 35-39 hours per week, 46% of the jobs requiring 40 hours per week, 30% of the jobs that require more than 40 hours of work per week, and only 22% of jobs that require more than 60 hours of work per week (Table 5). It seems appropriate to me, then, that when the numbers are averaged solely against age, women are earning less than men -- at least part of the pay gap can be (and should be, in my opinion) attributed to the fact that, as a group, women are working less hours.

The largest disparity in pay for full-time workers between genders occurs in two groups:

1. Between men and women with school age children, whether married or single. There's no getting around it, these women make *much* less than their male counterparts (table 8). In our society, more women play the caretaker roll than men -- that is another fascinating conversation, but I don't believe it belongs in the mathematical discussion of whether women are actually paid less for the same work (with the same level of experience) done by their male counterparts. Instead, I think we need to look at the reality that much of the pay disparity occurs when women are most likely to be making decisions to focus on children instead of career.

2. Married women working full-time make significantly less than married men working full-time. I've blogged about this topic in the past. Certainly, it doesn't explain all of the pay gaps in this group, but I do believe it is important to consider the reality that many married women opt not to be the primary bread-winner so that they will have the flexibility to be the primary supportive spouse, home-labor-specialist, and/or caregiver to children. Yes, we are moving to a model where some men are opting to do this as well, but I do not believe the decision to be a supportive spouse with a flexible career is evenly distributed across gender lines today.

Basically, I am troubled by reference to data and facts on gender that makes the situation appear to be much worse than it likely is. It is hard to have an intelligent conversation on a sensitive issue if the position you start from is slanted. I am not saying that pay discrimination on gender lines does not exist -- I am certain it does. But what I am saying is that it is much less pervasive than a quick look at the average earnings for all full-time workers would indicate, and it's not fair to ourselves as a society to ignore that reality.

Okay, now I can actually go get some work done.

Update: I started down the rat-hole above because I recalled but could not find the Study that found that young educated women in metropolitan areas actually earn more than men in their same demographic. But, I finally found it, so you can click the link too, if you like.

No comments: