Skepticism of gender pay gap and President Obama’s “Equal Pay Day” proclamation

President Barack Obama recently declared April 9 as “Equal Pay Day,” calling for Americans to “acknowledge the injustice of wage inequality” between men and women which, according to the proclamation, is a 23% pay disparity between men and women in the workforce. The proclamation reads as follows:

Over the past 4 years, the American people have come together to lift our economy out of recession and forge a foundation for lasting prosperity. Our businesses have created millions of new jobs, our stock market is rebounding, and our housing market has begun to heal. But even now, too many Americans are seeing their hard work go unrewarded because of circumstances beyond their control. Women — who make up nearly half of our Nation’s workforce — face a pay gap that means they earn 23 percent less on average than men do. That disparity is even greater for African-American women and Latinas. On National Equal Pay Day, we recognize this injustice by marking how far into the new year women have to work just to make what men did in the previous one.

Wage inequality undermines the promise of fairness and opportunity upon which our country was founded. For families trying to make ends meet, that gap can also mean the difference between falling behind and getting ahead. When working mothers make less than their male counterparts, they have less to spend on basic necessities like child care, groceries, and rent. Small businesses see fewer customers walk through their doors. Tuition payments get harder to afford, and rungs on the ladder of opportunity get farther apart. And just as diminished wages shortchange families, they slow our entire economy — weakening growth here at home and eroding American competitiveness abroad.

To grow our middle class and spur progress in the years ahead, we need to address longstanding inequity that keeps women from earning a living equal to their efforts. That is why I have made pay equity a top priority — from signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act days after I took office to cracking down on equal pay law violations wherever they occur. And to back our belief in equality with the weight of law, I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Our country has come a long way toward ensuring everyone gets a fair shot at opportunity, no matter who you are or where you come from. But our journey will not be complete until our mothers, our wives, our sisters, and our daughters are treated equally in the workplace and always see an honest day’s work rewarded with honest wages. Today, let us renew that vision for ourselves and for our children, and let us rededicate ourselves to realizing it in the days ahead.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2013, as National Equal Pay Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize the full value of women’s skills and their significant contributions to the labor force, acknowledge the injustice of wage inequality, and join efforts to achieve equal pay.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.


I’m skeptical.

President Obama’s press release contains no citation or explanation concerning this 23% figure. Might, as Barack Obama suggests, there exist a “longstanding inequity” and “injustice of wage inequality” which “undermines the promise of fairness and opportunity upon which our country was founded” and prevents women from earning a fair wage?

What does an evaluation of relevant literature have to say about the gender pay gap?

Is evidence of a pay gap evidence of gender discrimination?

What are people talking about when they say ‘gender pay gap?’

What can account for the pay gap?

A review of relevant literature admits of a pay gap between men and women and explains why the pay gap may exist. Pay gap percentages in the literature vary from 18% to 7% depending on data analysis and factors researchers control for although some important factors — most prominently including whether women are bearing or rearing children (and how many) – are not controlled for although research suggests childbearing and child-rearing are associated with lower pay outcomes.

Berk (2008) suggests that although women are represented in nearly all professions, women’s skills are not fully developed as they remain concentrated in occupations with little chance for advancement while also being underrepresented in management and executive roles. In virtually all professions, the achievements of women lag behind those of men who write more books, make more discoveries, hold more leadership positions, and produce more works of art.

According to the United States Census Bureau (2006), women are most represented in less affluent professions including

U.S. Census Bureau Statistical abstract of the United States (125th ed.)

nursing, education, and social work. Women are underrepresented in as engineers, doctors, CEOs, business executives, and lawyers – all professions which are more lucrative when compared to the professions in which women are most represented. Women comprise 92.2% of registered nurses, 83.2% of librarians and museum curators, 81.3% of elementary and middle school teachers, 77.7% of social workers, 66.7% of psychologists, 36.7% of business executives at all levels, 29.4% of lawyers and doctors, 23% of CEOs of large corporations, and 9.2% of engineers.

According to Prokos & Padavic (2005), the average American woman aged 25 to 34 earns $0.84 cents when compared to men of the same age range. Gender disparities in career development, according to Venable (2002), largely account for the earnings gap. According to Hynes & Clarkberg (2005) and information from the United States Department of Labor (2004), women in traditionally feminine occupations typically plan for the short-term while entering and exiting the labor market as they rear children and give birth.

Compared to men aged 18 to 34 who are out of the labor force 11% of time, women of the same age range are absent from the workforce 26% of time. Blair-Loy & DeHart (2003) explain that time away from the workforce greatly impedes advancement and is a major reason why women in male-dominated prestigious careers may often delay or avoid childbearing.

Petersen & Gonzales (1999) claim that low self-efficacy in regard to male-dominated fields limits the career progress of women. Women who work in male-dominated fields typically have high achievement orientation, self-reliance, and a belief that they can be successful because of their efforts. According to Lindley (2005), women with high self-efficacy are less certain – in comparison with men – that they can achieve career success.

O’Neill, Horton, & Crosby (1999) explain that family obligations and gender-stereotyped images of women as followers — as opposed to gender-stereotyped images of men as leaders — deter women from advancing into top-level positions of management. The absence of women as mentors — due to the fact that men dominate high-status fields — may also place women at a disadvantage because women with female mentors tend to be more productive.

The American Association of University Women (2013), in a document investigating the gender wage gap, suggests that part of the pay gap cannot be explained by factors known to affect earnings and is likely due to discrimination. According to the AAUW, when comparing women’s annual earnings as a percentage of men’s annual earnings for full-time and year-round workers in the year 2001, women were paid 77% of what men were paid; in 2011, the median annual earnings of men in the United States was $37,118 while the median annual earnings of women in the United States was $48,202.

The AAUW reports that the pay gap is, in part, due to the choices of men and women including selection of college major and job pursued after graduation. One year after college graduation, the AAUW notes, women were paid 82% of what their male counterparts were paid. When controlling for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status, a 7 percent difference exists when comparing earnings of men and women one year after college graduation. 10 years after college graduation, according to the AAUW, the pay gap widens from 7 percent to 12 percent.

Women, as parents, have drastically different outcomes than men. 10 years after college graduation, 23% of mothers in the AAUW’s sample size were no longer in the workforce and 17% worked part-time. Only 1% of fathers were no longer in the workforce and 2% worked part-time. The AAUW notes that prospective full-time working mothers face more difficultly when compared with fathers because working mothers are less likely to be hired by employers – partially because of time away from the workforce.

The AAUW explains that jobs traditionally dominated by men pay better than jobs dominated by women. In 2011, over 40% of women in the workforce worked in female-dominated professions including social work, nursing, and teaching while 5% of men worked in these fields. 44% of men in the workforce worked in male-dominated professions including computer programming, aerospace engineering, and firefighting while 6% of women worked in these fields. Men are more likely to work in the fields of construction, maintenance, repair, and transportation while women are more likely to work in the fields of sales, service, and in professional capacities in office and administrative support.

Women can take action to reduce the pay gap. The AAUW notes that not all college majors provide a solid foundation for a prosperous financial future; outcomes vary from major to major. Early selection of careers and jobs also typically fixates women (and men) in a particular area of work. Selection of more profitable career choices, then, at an early time, should allow for more prosperous outcomes. The AAUW also encourages women to improve and analyze their negotiation skills with employers because better negotiation skills are associated with better pay outcomes.

The AAUW, in an older document (2007), provides more information concerning the pay gap which appears to be omitted from their 2013 report. While the 2007 document, in addition to the latest document, professes the wage gap may not be accounted for by choices women make [the AAUW suggests choices may only partially explain the pay gap], several explanations are given which may account for the pay gap: women are more likely than men to take time off work including — but not limited to – family leave and childcare leave. Men also report working longer hours when compared with women because women are more likely to — while working — continue investing in post-secondary education. Women are more also more likely to be employed part-time, thus earning less than men.

Common themes in the literature include recognition of the pay gap – not necessarily as a result of gender discrimination, but rather — in most cases — gender-based differences between women and men, assumed childcare responsibilities and childbearing, choice of career and area of study in post-secondary and secondary education, and time spent in the workplace. Although the AAUW professes the gender gap cannot be fully explained by lifestyle choices, many reasons provided by literature (including reasons provided by the AAUW) are plausible explanations which may – without resorting to explanations of discrimination – account for the wage gap or, when controlled for, shrink the wage gap.

Specific, operational definitions are important when considering the gender wage gap. Depending on how the wage gap is defined — ranging from comparison of median incomes of men and women to comparison of median incomes of men and women while controlling for various important factors in a specific timeframe – different results will be reported and analyzed by researchers and the public at large.

Stating that women are paid 77% or 82% of what men are paid may be attractive to suit a political or social agenda, but this does not appear to be an honest way to present the pay gap – especially when the gap shrinks as important factors are controlled for and the measure of the pay gap comes from comparison within professions (pay of teachers compared to pay of teachers, for example) rather than between professions (pay of engineers compared to pay of teachers).

Researchers may be wise to stray away from explanations of gender discrimination to account for the pay gap, especially when failing to present evidence suggesting gender discrimination exists in particular cases. The existence of pay disparities, even within particular fields, is not necessarily evidence of discrimination. How is gender discrimination operationally defined? How might discrimination be measured? Additionally, a lack of explanation pertaining to the pay gap does not necessarily suggest discrimination; instead, a lack of explanation admits of an oversight on behalf of researchers and a need for future research.

AAUW data concerning a 7% pay gap does not control for women with children and, because of this, the pay gap may be larger than it would be if childbearing or child-rearing were controlled for in data analysis. The AAUW and a review of the literature concerning the gender wage gap suggests that women with children are at an economic disadvantage in the workplace for several reasons previously explained, so this would be an important factor for which to control.

Popular media outlets, government officials, feminist organizations, and laypersons ought to – to be more honest with their analysis and/or trumpeting of statistics – be clear when speaking about the gender wage gap by providing operational definitions and explanations for why men typically earn more than women in the workplace. Rather than hastily assuming gender discrimination or institutional problems, plausible hypotheses which may explain the gender pay gap ought to be considered.

A lack of ‘pay equity’ — statistically equal or statistically insignificant data — whether or not controlling for important considerations which may account for pay gaps is not necessarily evidence of gender discrimination or reason for government intervention. Being more honest with interpretations of data will allow for persons interested in shrinking the pay gap to approach the problem in a meaningful way and for women to not assume a fatalistic attitude of consignment to gender discrimination.

President Obama’s rhetoric is overstreteching, ill-defined, and inconsistent with what literature concerning the gender pay gap suggests. Inequity and inequality are not the best explanations to account for the gender wage gap which can better be explained by the career choices of men and women, career planning, men working more hours (and staying in) the workforce, gender differences, familial obligations and choices pertaining to child-bearing and child-rearing, and pay negotiation skills and assertiveness. Let’s more honestly evaluate data and not rush to conclusions of inequality and gender discrimination.


American Association of University Women, (2007). Behind the pay gap.

American Association of University Women, (2013). The simple truth about the gender pay gap.

Berk, L. (2008). Exploring lifespan development. (1st ed., p. 360). Boston: Pearson.

Blair-Loy, M., & DeHart, G. (2003). Family and career trajectories among African-American female attorneys. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 908-933.

Hynes, K. & Clarkberg, M. (2005). Women’s employment patterns during early parenthood: A group-based trajectory analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 222-239.

Lindley, L.D. (2005). Perceived barriers to career development in the context of social-cognitive career theory. Journal of Career Assessment, 13, 271-287.

O’Neill, R.M., Horton, S., & Crosby, F.J. (1999). Mentoring Dilemmas (pp. 63-80). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Petersen, N., & Gonzalez, R.C. (1999). Career counseling models for diverse populations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Prokos, A. & Padavic, I. (2005). An examination of competing explanations for the pay gap among scientists and engineers. Gender and Society, 19, 523-543.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2006). Statistical abstract of the United States (125th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Labor. (2004, August 25). Number of jobs held, labor market activity, and earnings growth among younger baby boomers: Recent results from a longitudinal survey. News USDL04-1678. Washington DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Venable, D. (2002). The wage gap myth. Dallas: National Center for Policy Analysis.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • Well, the Pres gets his infomatix from the Department of Labor – do we have a way to disprove their stats? You are being tough on him – it’s not customary to cite sources in presidential proclamations, though you could start a petition for change. At the end of the day, it’s nearly impossible to sort the apples and oranges because they are human not manufactured and life gets in the way and there are perhaps too many variables to gain the ‘hard scientific data’ so many skeptics drool over. If you’re confused at the end of my comment that’s OK, it’s a confusing subject.

    • It is indeed much more complex than Obama makes it to be. Consider the AAUW data, which doesn’t control for children, the gap is 7% and — I think — can be explained by that which I discussed as explained by the literature.

      • I’ll bet a study on single mothers/fathers same major, college and GPA would be super duper interesting.

        • thirteenangels

          The last set of statistics I saw indicated that college-age women in large population centers were earning approximately 7% more than their male counterparts. I will have to see if I can’t find it again and post the link.

    • The statistics are not wrong, but they are being misused. They simply don’t have any power to speak to *why* questions.

      The Dept. of Labor itself commissioned a study (published 2009) to investigate the why of the wage gap. In the foreward, the DoL said:

      “Although additional research in this area is clearly needed, this study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers. ”

      The study finds that between 65-76% of the wage gap vanishes when controlling for relevant preferences. Source:

  • I’m going to add this to the comment section here – importing a comment left on Facebook:

    “Justin, it is time to stop. A year ago, or so, when you were first attacked, I looked at the issues and supported you. However, your anger at “feminists” and how unskeptical they are has led you to become increasingly simply a person attacking a group of people (women) rather than individual points of ideas. I don’t disagree that feminists (and all people with a mission) can be irrational, see slights that aren’t meant, and sometime (often, even) attack the most innocent of comments by anyone as being sexist or misogynist. I will never stop being a skeptic, about any issue, but I do think you have gone from attacking ideas to berating am entire group because of the issues you have had with a few. Turn toward something else. There are plenty of targets out there. Leave women alone for now. You’re making a fool of yourself and merely helping their cause by being nit picky and petty. Your posts are becoming truly misogynist in tone merely by their extreme number. You hate women is the message. I got it. Thanks for the clarification.”

    • Jack.Rayner

      Hm… So, a post applying a bit of critical thinking at the “wage gap” and the people that disseminate it…is the same as “berating […] women” and misogyny? Did I miss something?

      Maybe I should read this post again, because I must have speed-read over the part where you’re calling for women to be barred from earning as much as men.

    • thirteenangels

      Welp; repeatedly criticizing an advoacy group for their unscientific proclaimations can be construed as a charge of hatred toward those they advocate for? I better lay off the Creationists; I wouldn’t want to be seen as a ‘religion-hater’!

      I would also like to contrast these two gems:

      “I don’t disagree that feminists (and all people with a mission) can be irrational, see slights that aren’t meant, and sometime (often, even) attack the most innocent of comments by anyone as being sexist or misogynist.”

      “Your posts are becoming truly misogynist in tone merely by their extreme number. You hate women is the message.”

  • Did you look into the literature on the motherhood penalty?

    • bluharmony

      Yep, this is the key. Women pay a huge career penalty because they get pregnant. They pay it even if they never want to get pregnant or never have children. Further, the wage gap doesn’t include all the parenting-related and household chores most women still do for free. MRAs will say that women spend most of the money. Well, you know why that is? Because they shop for the family, furnish & decorate the home, and so on, all the while working full-time jobs. And men are whining that this is somehow unfair? Puh-leeze.

      I’m not a big fan of Obama, but I do appreciate this speech.

      • Astrokid NJ

        They pay it even if they never want to get pregnant or never have children

        How so?

        • bluharmony

          Employers can’t ask about these things; it’s illegal. But the assumption is that women of a certain age either have or will have kids. Some studies also show that women without children make more than men. It’s not a black and white issue. I don’t think we need absolute pay equality if there’s mutual respect for what two partners do in a partnership (marriage).

          • Astrokid NJ

            1) I didnt get it.. yes there may be an assumption that women will have kids.. how does that assumption have any significant impact on pay?
            As a team leader myself, one aspect that is fundamental to the projects I work in (and ALL the environments I have been in) is the understanding of disposability.. that any employee may up and leave anytime.. this is a given. And thus we do the very best to retain the most valuable employees. This is a very fundamental aspect of culture.. as described very well in Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men

            I left this comment on Justin earlier blogpost on

            FWIW.. I am not a white guy and in my 10+ yrs working in IT in the US, I have been “underpaid”, as well as “overpaid”.. ALL depending on the company I worked for, the fortunes of the company, the fortunes of the market, my negotiation skills with my boss etc. While I was resentful at the time of being underpaid.. in retrospect I see it all balanced out in the long term.. there is never perfect justice. One’s exact value in the current job can only be determined by the employer via experience.. and takes time.
            I found no intent to discriminate by my bosses.. and plenty of white guys AT MY OWN EXPERIENCE LEVEL earned less than me (simply because I was more capable and valuable to the company at that time). We also had a couple of very bright chinese-american women work in our IT group, and if anyone suggested that their sex played a role in determining their compensation, my boss would laugh.

            So women and pregnancy isnt something that bugged us in any way.. And when one woman got pregnant.. nobody batted an eyelid. somebody else picked up where she left off. I am pretty sure much of the IT world is like this..and I have worked in a few countries and didnt see much difference in this field.
            Of course other industries are different. I cant speak about them, but I am pretty sure they ALL understand disposability. ALL men learn this over the years.

            2) if there’s mutual respect for what two partners do in a partnership (marriage)
            The ones who demolished the status of motherhood in marriage are second-wave feminists. Just ask the conservative women.
            One early Mens Rights org in Seattle 1987 Moverment for Real Gender Equality explicitly mentioned the respect.

            I- Resolution on Gender Roles
            Whatever value they may once have had, in today’s technological and overpopulated world, rigid external gender roles are obsolete. In fact, strict role expectations have done vast amounts of harm to men and women alike. Individuals differ greatly from one another in their needs, tastes and abilities, hence moral equality demands that each person have the freedom to be different.
            Be it therefore resolved that neither of the traditional sex roles, nor a single “androgynous” one, be enforced by law or social pressure; all three, and others as well, are worthy of respect if freely chosen.

            IV- Resolution on Economic Equality in Marriage
            The traditional undervaluation of unpaid labour in the home, and the absence of laws governing shared labour between spouses, have often in the past cheated wives of what was rightfully theirs. Similarly, the traditional attitudes that it is a man’s job to provide, and that he must pay for a woman’s companionship, have also led to many injustices.
            Be it therefore resolved that childbearing and childrearing activities in a marriage be considered of equal importance to working outside the home.
            Be it further resolved that all divorce settlements be based on a realistic assessment of actual contributions of money and labour in each individual case, rather than on economic need or on an automatic assumption of equal contributions.

            I have said this before.. the story of lesbian feminist Norah Vincent who walked in men’s garb and shoes for 6 months, and got the shock of her life.. is something that women need to study. Men understand that civilization was built based on disposability.. MALE disposability. When women entered the workforces in large numbers.. they have been unable to reconcile with this aspect.. they will/should NOT be treated as any different.. just a cog in the wheel.

          • bluharmony

            As always, I value and appreciate the points you make.

          • I think in a profit-oriented, capitalist economy, in a corporate world it’s completely inevitable to pay women less.
            Women do get pregnant and they do stay at home much more than man. You’ve just read some statistics regarding that, Astrokid.

            But here’s what society can do:
            Stop looking down on men who don’t earn much.
            Sorry, ladies, but you are a huge part of the problem. And I’m not stereotipizing here, but many females in our culture expect men to have a job, and preferably a job with a high salary.
            Stop looking down on stay at home dads:
            Minus the breastfeeding and giving birth to children part, men are perfectly capable of raising kids.

            I worked for IBM for 3 years. During that time me and my colleagues were given VERY valuable and costly trainings and education. (Check out how much money does an SAP certification or just a minor SAP or AIX training costs)
            If you invest money in an employee you want that employee to stick with your company.
            If an employee earns experience on the job you would prefer to keep him or her.

          • Amgine

            I agree that part-time work should be available to both sexes no matter what their other commitments. I recently had to leave my full-time job because they weren’t prepared to offer part-time work to me now that I’m having to take on a part-time caring role for my parents. It appears that the overheads (costs in money and management time) for employing two part-time workers are higher as opposed to one full-time worker.

            There must be some way of enabling employers to retain staff in more flexible working patterns that doesn’t penalize the employers financially.

            Also, part-time employees often lose promotion opportunities to their full-time colleagues who are seen as more committed to their careers.

          • Amgine

            Just being a woman of a particular age can make employers wary of even employing a woman.

            I was asked in my last interview if I had any family commitments that might conflict with the job I was going for. I had to explain that I didn’t have any children at home and was, therefore, unlikely to be called away to look after a child.

            In another job, I was told point-blank that I didn’t need a pay rise because I was married and my spouse and I already had a good enough combined income.

            Both those examples are a mere personal snapshot of employer attitudes and I have other similar anecdotal evidence. I worked mainly in the public sector.

      • thirteenangels

        There was a recent study showing the number of hours earch week men and women engaged in paid work, unpaid work (i.e. househould chores), and child care activities.

        Perhaps unsurprisingly, women lead the score in the amount of time spent on unpaid work and child-care. However, when all three items were tallied, it transpired that men spent fifty-four hours on these activities, versus wome’s fifty-three. Totalling this up, men perform just shy of an entire extra week’s worth of work versus women.

        “MRAs will say that women spend most of the money. Well, you know why that is? Because they shop for the family, furnish & decorate the home, and so on, all the while working full-time jobs. And men are whining that this is somehow unfair? Puh-leeze.”
        If I understand correctly, it appears that you agree with the MRA position that women control the majority of consumer spending; and only disagree on whether this is a benefit women actively enjoy, or merely a reflection of the role many of them occupy as the designated family shopper.
        As such, why complain about the pay gap? Evidently this is not a benefit that men actively enjoy, merely a reflection of the role many of them occupy as the designated family breadwinner.

        • bluharmony

          Perhaps these roles are not the ideal for either party, while they may still be ideal for some. Please don’t mistake this as me saying that men have it easy.

      • Ronlawhouston

        I support your theory. I think it all relates to the motherhood penalty. If women get paid less then employers would hire women all things being equal. The only way to get around that fact is that there must be a motherhood penalty.

    • Thanks! This coheres with the literature I reviewed – that is, that mothers face some ‘penalty’ because of time away from work, familial commitments, and fewer full-time work. Since women are typically caretakers, mothers are more likely to face a ‘penalty’ than fathers. If mothers (or fathers) don’t have childcare options when working full-time (or even part-time), there may be quite the penalty. Costs of daycare, too, not to mention inflexible times, may reduce work hours, productivity, and disposable income. Children, too, make work/life balance much more difficult.

      • The study showed that the penalty is most likely assessed in initial hiring and salary offers. This means that women are being discriminated against merely for being mothers, whereas men are not. See table 1 for more details, and also the methodology section.

  • Gary

    I would like to see more on this topic.I do believe there is some pay gap but I shut off when I hear people talking about it for two reasons. First the quoted numbers never change. I’ve been hearing the same numbers forever and they must be changing somewhat in one direction or the other just as a product of sample size. Secondly the number is meaningless if it is dimensionless. In Congress there is no pay gap. In other fields it is higher. To give dimension to the statistic you need parameters for what profession you are measuring. You have to give an age range, a time period, and you have to either have all people that measure up the same in experience and qualification or have a quantitative method of controlling for those qualitative differences. It is very messy work to calculate which makes it a fun scientific question but very challenging and laborious to answer

  • Michael Steane

    If women really were paid less than men for equally valuable work, employers would cease to employ men because they would not be cost effective. Or maybe academics and politicians who have rarely done a real day’s work know better than those making the decisions.

    • thirteenangels

      I made this very same argument recently; that the notoriously mercenary business culture of America would have little compunction in replacing their entire workforce with women if it would result in dramtic costs savings of a quarter or more.

      My opponent countered that increasing female employment would lead in turn to female promotion; and that the same forces of institutionalized sexism that are cited a cause for the pay gap would refuse to potentially hand power to women on principle.

      Such business are however quite complacent, it appears, when it comes to banking funds for terrorist organizations and drug cartels, recklessly destablizing the economy, buying politicians, disregarding the preservation of the environment and ignoring the well-being of their employees across a number of axis. Employing more women, though? That’s a line our short-sighted corporate overlords just won’t cross!

  • Astrokid NJ

    It gets really interesting.. when we evaluate places where women get MORE money for less work.
    Consider Professional Tennis.. where women get paid the same prize money as men, for LESS work.. i.e 3 sets vs 5 sets for men. The market ticket price for Wimbledon Finals
    Womens final: 965 GBP
    Men’s final: 3250 GBP
    But prize money the same? LOL

    If you consider other women’s sports.. WNBA say.. the attendance is quite thin.. since they are nowhere near as interesting or high calibre as the men’s sports. and one wonders how it even sustains financially.. Well.. they leech off of the corresponding men’s events. And men are browbeaten by disgusting assholes in power like Obama and Joe Biden, wretched white knights and feminist women.

    Over at the slimepit many many months ago when I was there and Justin made his first foray there, I applauded him for putting his burgeoning reputation on the line when all the other leaders had clammed up. Of late, he’s taken it up a notch by questioning foundational aspects of feminism..Parrhesia, as Franc would say. My friend, I have more respect for you than the DJGrothes’ of “skepticism”.

    So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk. Of course, this risk is not always a risk of life. When, for example, you see a friend doing something wrong and you risk incurring his anger by telling him he is wrong, you are acting as a parrhesiastes. In such a case, you do not risk your life, but you may hurt him by your remarks, and your friendship may consequently suffer for it. If, in a political debate, an orator risks losing his popularity because his opinions are contrary to the majority’s opinion, or his opinions may usher in a political scandal, he uses parrhesia. Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the “game” of life or death.

    To summarize the foregoing, parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.

  • I would like to suggest that raw dollars should not be the sole measure of economic outcomes, and asserting that this is so might be the most sexist of positions on the matter.

    On the job market, there are many trade-offs that a person must make: Dangerous, dirty, and jobs demanding of such things as location (close to residential area or far?), hours (are you on-call? can you shift your schedule around? can you easily get time off?) pay more than those that are less so.

    There’s stability/security. Can you be easily laid off, or do you get a contract? More stable jobs pay a bit less because they have a bit more intrinsic value to the employee.

    Last we might consider forms of compensation. Does the employer provide a good 401K or health insurance option? If they do, they probably pay a bit less because they have to.

    A person, or a class of people statistically speaking, might choose the job that offers them the best quality of life instead of the highest salary. That could mean security instead of risk, and a nice climate-controlled office instead of an oil rig or rooftop; a job at a municipal hospital instead of a private practice that could go belly-up.

    If you have a family or children (as more women than men do) then safety and security become much more important priorities than raw salary dollars. The “wage gap” studies do not generally factor any of this in.

    Insisting on pay parity might be like telling women “sorry, you have the wrong preferences. You should be chasing a high salary instead of taking the job that lets you take time off for your kid’s piano recital because only salary matters to success.” We should consider that women are (statistically) making very sensible choices in which raw pay is traded for the things that actually make life for them and their family better. We should admit that those virtues are perfectly acceptable, and that economically it is simply impossible to get both top-end salary and top-end fringe benefits simultenously (no matter your gender).

    I do believe there is some amount of common discrimination against women in the workplace. That is why we need to be sensible about evaluating it. We need to know the scope, causes, and dynamics of the problem if we can ever hope to address it. Raw wage gap statistics don’t do that for us.

  • easy answer to this problem just make it a law that every business has to disclose it’s pay rates for hiring and promotion and make them available to every employee.

    • Jack.Rayner

      I’m no following. What do you think would that accomplish?

      • it would force companies to explain why they pay what they pay for specific jobs/tasks. If it is public information that says this job pays 9/hr then anyone doing that job would get 9/hr basically putting a value on the price of work instead of the price of the person. then if say person gets a promotion you move to a new pay level that has the new description and job requirements and pay rate

        • Companies actually are required to complete an annual government wage survey – this is where the government gets its wage data from. However good it sounds to job seekers, to make it available to the public would be problematic to our way of doing business in the vein of free enterprise. Private business does not always have pay grades – people often negotiate their salaries. Government salaries of course are by grade and are disclosed. What I always recommend to job seekers or those doubting the competitiveness of their earnings, is to consult with, and

          • We aren’t even supposed to talk about what we make with our fellow co-workers, and frankly I don’t want to know, it sounds like drama could easily ensue.

  • Justin,

    I think we need to delve a bit deeper into the stats here. Not every pay gap can be explained away in terms of lifestyle or career choices. Take, for example, these data:

    Other than gender discrimination in hiring and salary structure, how do you propose to explain the bars with statistically significant differences?

    • Clarence Woodworth

      Quite simple, really:
      The categories as shown are extremely broad and don’t distinguish the actual jobs. If more men enter as contractors in a certain sector or if more men enter as management(my understanding is most MBA’s are men) then that would explain most of the gap.
      If you choose your categories the right way you can almost always get them to say whatever you want. The more you break things down on the other hand, the less likely you are to get mislead as to the true situation.

      You should also take into account that the AAUW is an explicitly political organization that , as far as I can tell, has had the same ‘take’ on the ‘pay gap’ for over 20 -probably 30 if I remember correctly -years. I do not rely on them for good research.

      • How are MBA’s relevant here? The data were for people who just finished their undergrad.

    • Just looking at your chart.

      PK-12 Educators: Provides no information about which subjects men and women choose to specialize in or the relative values of those specialties. I was also under the impression that there was a shortage of men in teaching, simple supply and demand would predict men to be paid more.

      Sales Occupations: The majority of top sales roles have a commission component to their pay structure, If women are earning less in a field with performance based pay…. well I’ll leave you to figure that out. As for the term ‘Sales Occupations’ it’s incredibly vague and could include everything from selling jets for Boeing to selling burgers at McDonalds.

      Business/Management: Doesn’t tell you thing about what kinds of business are involved or what types of business men and women choose to work in. Again it’s very vague, ‘Managing’ a shop will not pay the same as ‘Managing’ a hedge fund. It also make no mention of how many ‘Managers’ of either sex were self employed having started their own business.

      Other Occupations: is so vague it’s barely worth discussing.

      And none of these numbers make any reference to hours worked or the difficulty or unpleasantness of the jobs.

      • You should probably read the rest of the report. Even after taking those factors into account, a 7¢ pay gap remained unexplained.

  • Ronlawhouston

    “President Obama’s rhetoric is overstreteching, ill-defined,
    and inconsistent with what literature concerning the gender pay gap

    Perhaps, but it is smart politics. Anyway, thanks to you Justin for publishing facts on the issue rather than rhetoric.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    After reading this and talking to a friend of mine (thanks K!), I decided to see if I could find some stats on the lawsuits resulting from pay gap charges. The reason being is that would give a good indication on the actual volume of offenses, although (like rape) there would probably be a large amount of under-reporting.

    The only halfway decent stats I could find (easily) come from the EEOC office here:

    Unfortunately, they do not break out pay discrimination by gender. There’s pay discrimination charges (include sex, disability, race, etc) and there are gender charges (includes harrassement, pay, etc).

    That being said, the cases under gender discrimination per year go from a low of just over 23,000 in 2005 to over 30,000 in 2012. The cases under Equal Pay Act charges range from just over 800 in 2007, to over 1200 in the early 2000s. With 2012 having almost 1100 cases.

    I don’t know if that’s valuable… probably not without some kind of context .

    As my friend mentioned, a lot of women need the job, so they feel they just have to take lower pay. Too, lawsuits are expensive and if one doesn’t win, then one will probably owe a lot of money with (probably) no job. Finally, many companies have a specific rule NOT to talk about pay. So many people may not even realize that they are not getting equal pay. Of course, a lot of the reason for that it is people who don’t do a bad enough job to get fired just don’t get the merit raises that people who bust ass all day long get too.

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  • Somewhat OffTopic:
    You recently tweeted that you will apply skepticism to everything. So some food for thought.

    1) Q: What do you make of the lack of Right Wing voices in the atheist blogging community? While I am neither Right nor Left, I find many on the Right to be lot more candid w.r.t discussion of Human Nature. for e.g
    Women’s agency and sexuality:
    In spite of Steven Pinker’s popularity in the atheist community and his expose of the Left’s whitewashing of human nature over the last century.. I am finding an unwillingness to openly discuss this, esp in light of gender issues over the last 3 years.

    For e.g w.r.t Pay Equity.. young Women use their sexuality ALL the time. Much of civilization was an exchange of sex for provision/protection, esp in ancient times when nature was untamed. Why would ANYONE expect the masses of women to not leverage on that now? Have the skirts gotten any longer over the last 50 years?
    Dear Women: Stop blaming men for your lack of power. Sincerely, a frustrated teenager

    2) A prevalent meme in the atheist community is the belief that Religion is a source of “misogyny” (but not “misandry”). Making men provide for and protect women .. often by working in coal mines/high seas & sacrificing their lives in war and fighting & taming nature.. shouldering ALL the responsibility and complexity the PUBLIC sphere throws at the family.. was seen as normal. And yet the women’s part is “misogyny”?

    Why would we expect our forefathers to have a hateful understanding of the nature of the sexes, esp as they were very familiar with each other.. unlike unfamiliar aspects such as races living far away, or humans of a different sexual orientation.

    I see Religion as a repository of ancient experiential knowledge of human nature.
    A failed science.. but surely not everything in Religion is hogwash. Joseph campbell’s work on myths has revealed that myths DID serve some psychological needs of the people of the time. for e.g Native American Men who participated in killing of large animals (buffalo) or other tribesmen in war.. apparently would suffer from PTSD.. just like the soldiers of today. And they apparently had rituals and myths to prepare and de-program young men to ensure their mental health. One myth was that buffalo needed to be sent back to soul-world to complete some cycle.
    Q: Can the Religion is a source of “misogyny” (but not “misandry”) be challenged?

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