As The Washington Post‘s Nia-Malika Henderson points out, ”It’s hard to find a study that finds no pay disparity in what men and women make,”—several studies place it closer to 84 cents on the dollar. But the gap is neither as wide nor as easily reduced as many would make it out to be. Though there are surely some occupations and companies where women get paid less out of plain old sexism, the wage gap overall seems a product of large but less nefarious structural and cultural forces.
These forces are certainly worth talking about. Why do women still flock to lower paying fields and positions? How can women, men, and companies make having children less detrimental to women’s careers? Why does the wage gap widen for older women even when they don’t have children? Etcetera. But trotting out misleading statistics about women’s wages not only fails to address these issues adequately, it actively works against addressing them. It makes things too simplistic, and thus given to simplistic solutions.
McArdle sees both sides of the argument:
Childless women who work the same hours as men make very close to what men do. Does that mean there is no discrimination against women? No.
The residual gap that’s left after you control for age, experience, work hours, choice of profession and so forth, is small. But it’s not zero. That residual most likely represents sexism. As a woman, I kind of take exception to that.
Most of the gap, however, seems to be driven by the fact that women work less, and that in many high-paying professions, how much you get paid is a function of how much you work … but not a linear function. There are outsized rewards to working the kinds of hours that make it very hard to care for a family.
And, in a sign of progress, Zara Kessler notes that her fellow millennial women experience less of a pay gap than their elders:
It seems that a pay gap basically doesn’t exist for millennial women, of which I am one. Pew Research Center analysis of census data, published in December, “shows that today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men.”
The White House uses the disputed data point that, according to U.S. Census statistics, full-time working women earn on average only 77 cents to their male counterpart’s dollar. Pew’s analysis looks at median hourly earnings of full- and part-time workers (men tend to work more hours, and women are more likely to work part-time) to find that in 2012 women ages 16 and older made 84 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts. According to Pew, women’s median hourly earnings for those ages 25-34 — which, yes, doesn’t encompass all millennials and includes some Gen Xers (according to Pew’s definition of millennials being born after 1980) — were 93 percent of men’s in 2012.