The Pay Gap Is Not as Bad as You (and Sheryl Sandberg) Think

Women don't make 77 cents to a man's dollar. They make more like 93 cents, as long as they don't major in art history

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It’s a galling and often cited statistic: women make 77 (or 81, or 82) cents to a man’s dollar. President Obama campaigned on it last year, announcing in an ad that “women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn’t just unfair — it hurts families.” Everyone from Lilly Ledbetter to Marlo Thomas has repeated it. And there it is on Page 6 of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In:

Progress also remains equally sluggish when it comes to compensation. In 1970, American women were paid $.59 for every dollar their male counterparts made. By 2010, women had protested, fought and worked their butts off to raise that compensation to $.77 for every dollar men made.

(MORE: TIME’s Cover Story, “Confidence Woman”)

Then Sandberg drops the topic of the pay gap altogether (although she later tackles raises and promotions). For someone writing a book on how women hold themselves back — “by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning forward” — this is a big missed opportunity. As it turns out, about two-thirds of that supposed pay gap can be attributed not to institutional discrimination but to choices that women make. Here’s why:

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.

(MORE: Sandberg Exclusive Excerpt: ‘Why I Want Women to Lean In’)

Take 77 cents to the dollar: that figure is actually the annual median earnings of women to men for 2010, based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The other figure you often hear, 81 cents to the dollar, is the average median weekly earnings of women to men for 2012, based on data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In both cases, the comparison is on an extremely broad level “that doesn’t account for differences in occupation, in experience level and a lot of other things that affect income,” says Tom Nardone, the associate commissioner for employment and unemployment statistics at the BLS, who makes a point of adding such a caveat in the second paragraph of a 91-page report on women’s earnings. “We at statistical agencies try to be very careful about defining our data, but we can’t control how other people use the information.”

The weekly earnings data are for wage and salary workers only and do not include self-employed workers. That means most of them work more than 35 hours a week, which minimizes the difference in the number of hours men and women work in general. (Yes, men work more.) However, some argue that the annual earnings number would be more accurate because it includes bonuses and other types of compensation not captured in the weekly earnings. What kind of jobs get bonuses? Well, investment banking for one, where, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women make up only 35% of all employees and 15% of executives and senior-level executives.

(MORE: Forget About Mentors — Women Need Sponsors)

Which brings us to the bringing-it-on-ourselves part. Your occupation greatly dictates income, and women disproportionately enter low-paying fields such as teaching, nursing and social work. One could argue that those fields are low-paying because they’ve traditionally been occupied by women who were denied other career paths and were therefore devalued by society and in economic terms, but regardless, if we truly wanted to narrow the pay gap, women need to enter more lucrative fields.

To be able to do that, women must choose to study subjects that lead to more lucrative occupations — information technology or economics over art history, for example. But they are not. Amazingly, the percentage of undergraduate computing and information-science degrees earned by women has actually dropped from 37% in 1985 to 18% in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. No wonder the Labor Department also reports that from 2002 to 2012, the percentage of female programmers dropped from 25.6% to 20%.

(MORE: Dominique Browning: More Ways Women Sabotage Themselves)

If you control for things like college majors and occupations, the pay gap, or the discrepancy between men’s and women’s earnings that can be attributed to bias and discrimination, shrinks down to about one-third of its size. This is what the American Association of University Women determined when it surveyed male and female college graduates one year after graduation and found that, absent all explanatory variables, even including a graduate’s GPA and how selective their school was and how long they were unemployed after graduation, the women made 93% of what the men were making. In other words, 93 cents to the man’s dollar. Not 77 cents. Not 81 cents. Ninety-three cents.

Sandberg is absolutely right that women face internal as well as external barriers in reaching parity with men in the workplace. But one of those barriers may be misinterpreting statistics in such a way that we underestimate how much those external barriers are actually within our control to change.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Sheryl Sandberg

22 comments
onyoursix
onyoursix

I was in officer training when a female cadet came out of the bathroom butt naked.  I told her that was inaproprate.  Later that day she spread around that I was sexually harrassing her (to the other cadets).


We had a black male student who was caught cheating.  He was reprimanded but allowed to stay (later quit as he just couldn't keep up). But I was accused of being racist as I'd told our class leader about his cheating, but not even five minutes later he was caught cheating...by staff, in a separate building.  My comments to the class leader were so we could "help" him, not bring him to the staff attention, but my comments had nothing to do with his being caught.


  In flight school my "stick buddy" was constantly violating traffic patterns rules and the instructor literal had to take the controls to keep us from having mid air collisions.  This well bellow average student was black... He just said our instructor was being racist... When I graduated he was 7 classes back...just kept saying instructors were racist.  He just had no "airspace" common sense.


  In my last Unit we got a fresh from flight school black pilot in.  he could not read a MGRS or Lat/long on a map..I asked how he made it..he said his instructors always did it for him...


  I could go on with these true life stories of "minorities" getting advantages...


  I could tell you about how one of our flight instructors died when they crashed, his student was the black student who accused me of being racist..who had also been set back due to cheating.. And I suspect it was his incompetence that killed his flight instructor..who had been a Cambodian national who joined and flew for us over there them imigrated here with his family...A real hero.  A real American..who died because liberals have it in their heads that everything must be equal, regardless...


 I could tell you those things..there all true...


  But liberals would find some person who had been hurt, put it up front, cry and bleed all over the place..say this is why others must sacrifice..even with their lives at time...


  I went on to work large industrial construction jobs.  Were men are men..and..if we were lucky we'd have a woman work with us.  Why do I say lucky?  Well, if a woman was good enough to take the plunge and be a Iron Worker, Millwright, or Electrician she knew he stuff.  Working with a professional is ALWAYS a blessing.  We could care less if she was a she, or a he... But that industry doesn't hire according to sex... I have no bad stories to tell about minorities not being able to pull their weight..


 I have many many more when it comes to the Government and how it "handles" it all... 


  What it all comes down to is "freedom".

 Obama doesn't get it..Liberals don't get it.  Many republicans just use it to get elected.

  When we are free, employers are able to hire based off skill.  Employees who are are paid less for the SAME work are able to sue.  Even allowing people to sue when co workers are shown favoritism (by being allowed to complete at a lesser standard because they are a minority). When we are free, all win.


  When we are not, innocent people are hurt.


  This is NOT 1900 and slavery is long gone.


 Only when freedom is pushed to the top will Government be pushed to the bottom and the cream of the crop will rise and HUMANITY will rise.


 

McGauth925
McGauth925

1. There IS discrimination.  A recent study showed that men started out making more, generally, based simply on a sight-unseen, male-named resume, vs. a female-named resume.

BUT, it's a lot less than so many people think, as this article points out

2. Feminists and women's advocates keep touting the 77% figure, even though they know that much of that figure is due to factors other than discrimination, because it's in their interest to do so.  The reaction and outrage is much greater, so they're quite willing to lie by omission. .

3. About children, women have to choose between making money and spending time with their children, just as men do.   The thing is, women want to have children more than men do, generally, and they now think they should be paid for doing what they want to do. Or else, what?  They won't have them?  Well, there are over 7 billion people on the planet.  Come back when there are only a billion, or so, left, and we'll talk.


Kberg86
Kberg86

Wow, the ignorance and misogyny is just astounding.  I am not typically the type to respond in forums such as these but the absurdity of some of these posts in addition to the selective nature of the article begs some reexamining.  Firstly, how is 'most women are drama queens' even a valid argument.  In addition, It is clear that the author of the article conveniently ignores historical and contemporary societal factors that influence women's career choices.  Women have been relegated to the periphery for centuries--societies do not change significantly in a matter of days, years, or even decades.  Therefore, the remnants of these historical processes are still visible.  As are those regarding racial inequality.  As for earning potential, the author also neglects to raise the issue of child-bearing and its effects on career trajectory.  This article is very simplistic in nature and does not actually explore all the meaningful factors and influences.  Through both the article and MrMisogyny's comments here, we get a clear sense of how gender inequality still exists.  In fact, it’s quite disconcerting to see that a man is so openly gender biased yet has the audacity to claim all things are equal.  Have you seen any comments by women attacking men the way you have disrespected women?  Think about how you are helping to perpetuate gender stereotypes rather than arguing blindly against the argument that women are not equal in this society when you clearly demonstrate this inequality yourself.  The author as well as one of the commentaries here clearly missed some critical discussion points that need to be addressed when looking at the larger issue of inequality.

MrTruth
MrTruth

Most women are drama queens, b!tching and gossip about everything. This is why you ladies won't get the promotion you want. If your company don't practice Equal Pay Act of 1963, then sue your company. Otherwise, stop acting like a Diva.

jnalewicki
jnalewicki

The 93 cents to the dollar pay difference is only ONE YEAR after college graduation. This gap increases over the years.

valente347
valente347

Why would a woman choose a career path that ends as a teacher, rather than an executive? Could it be because jobs like teaching offer more flexibility for the member of the family who must give birth, spend more time raising children, and doing housework? Perhaps if our society offered more support to mothers, they would be able to better pursue lucrative careers. I think that's the point most people make when they cite a larger pay discrepancy. They know that outright sexism by an employer does not cause most of the gap. It's that women tend to choose lower paying jobs and are out of the workforce longer because they shoulder more responsibility at home. They want that to change so women can achieve as much as men.

The second reason women may stay out of high-paying male-dominated fields is because the work environments themselves can be unpleasant for a woman to work in. A friend of mine graduated at the top of her class in civil engineering, but she couldn't stand the conscious and unconscious sexism she faced every day (even if she made an equal wage) in her all-male firm. She decided to go back to school and now works doing research. 

Dhines
Dhines

 The article fails to discuss that women of color are at an even greater disadvantage in terms of pay equity. African American women earn 64 cents to the dollar of what men earn. And Hispanic women make only 55 cents. And all those pennies less than men adds up substantially over the lifetime of a woman’s career, whether  55, 64, 77, or 93 cents for college educated women to a man’s dollar.  And at a time when a woman needs money the most, during her retirement years, she is going to have to survive on less money than her male counterparts due to all those pennies adding up over a 30-40 year work life span.  The amount of a woman's wages determines her benefits for Social Security and pension. Over the lifetime of a working woman, new research shows that a woman's earnings are more than $430,000 less than a comparable male counterpart over a 35 year work life.  So, yes it's worse than we think.

deanheat
deanheat

And what about for women of color?

mstouter
mstouter

Although you have explained the misinterpretation of statistics very well, the overall concept of this article that women don't make as much as men, still stands. Ninety-three cents may be much greater than seventy-seven, but nonetheless, it is still less than the dollar that a man is making. Even in situations where both sexes hold the same title/occupation, it is often seen that men still make more. Women are simply discriminated against in the workplace. Right from the interview, they are at a disadvantage. It is true that many women aren't as assertive as men when it comes to negotiating pay, but even so, a job is a job. If two people are doing the same labor, they should receive equal compensation.

ragingleftie
ragingleftie

Money, money, money that is the complete focus of this article. Feminism is about so much more than that.

Nathaniel_M_Campbell
Nathaniel_M_Campbell

As a (male) teacher, I find it regrettable that the primary life goal proposed by this article is to make as much money as possible. Is it so hard to believe that people voluntarily choose to forego higher wages in order to pursue the passion of helping make society better as teachers and nurses and social workers?

I ask every successful person to think about this: is your life better or worse because you had good teachers educating you?

(And I sigh with despair to think of the selfishness that has so taken root in our society that we value individual wealth creation over the service of others.)

failureofreality
failureofreality

Women do not want to hear and understand this argument.  It does not fit their ideology.

TakingUpSpace
TakingUpSpace

Re: "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"

And if an employer could get away with paying her $77,000, it would never hire a man. Never.

Re: "The pay-gap ratios don’t even refer to men and women in the same occupation."

But even in the same profession, women AVERAGE lower pay. Here's one reason:
“In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” 
There is one law that would close the wage gap almost overnight. See "Will the Ledbetter Act Help Women?" at Male Matters USA.

MrTruth
MrTruth

undefined ... Thank you for proving my point of a drama queen. But sometimes being a drama queen will help you, like being on one those "Housewife" shows for drama viewers (mostly women). Finally, I don't hate women. I am not gay. No I am not a hater of gay men.

MrTruth
MrTruth

@Kberg86 ... Thank you for proving my point of a drama queen. But sometimes being a drama queen will help you, like being on one those "Housewife" shows for drama viewers (mostly women).

Finally, I don't hate women. I am not gay. No I am not a hater of gay men.

jnalewicki
jnalewicki

@MrTruth Wow, that must've taken a lot of thought to string those stereotypical sentences together. I have an idea, next time you want to write a comment, why not come up with your own argument rather than sticking to the stereotypical "women are drama queens...and divas." You've just lumped an entire gender into one category, which proves how simple-minded you are. I bet your knuckles drag when you walk.

MrTruth
MrTruth

@jnalewicki ... So sue your company and stop complaining. I presume you actually work.

MrTruth
MrTruth

@valente347 ... Spending time with your family is always more rewarding than making money. If you only calculate your life happiness and worth through money, then you have a lot to learn. So, guys don't have it all, not even Steve Jobs.

MrTruth
MrTruth

@Dhines ... Go sue your company. $430,000 less?? You must be comparing a cleaning woman to a CEO.

Belisarius86
Belisarius86

@deanheat 

That's a separate, though intertwined issue. It needs to be addressed, but doing it here will just too many variables into the mix and cloud everything.

Kberg86
Kberg86

@MrTruth I think there are a few important points to address in your rebuttal.  First, using facts and bringing to light issues that were ignored in the article is not 'dramatic,' it is fundamental for forming a logical and coherent argument.  With this said, however, it is also clear that some opinions (not to be confused with 'truth') are unchangeable when individuals refuse to investigate some of the facts about different social issues and simply form their opinion based on the rhetoric of others without investigating the issue themselves.  You may not hate women, as you say, but it is clear you do not respect them, irrespective of your own sexual orientation.  

MrTruth
MrTruth

@jnalewicki @MrTruth ... I said MOST not ALL, second its a statement not an argument. For an argument: If you are calling me stupid, then I must be stupid enough to see most (not all) women are drama queen.