Does The Wage Gap Really Exist?

Naysayers will tell you the gender wage gap is entirely a result of women choosing different professions, or that it's ceased to exist at all. Finally, there's a concise explainer to debunk these claims and give us some real numbers.

The occasion for Laura Fitzpatrick's eminently useful piece in Time: women would have to work, on average, from Jan. 1 2009 all the way to Apr. 20, 2010 to make what men made in 2009 alone. Some other instructive stats:

— Women made 77% of what men made in 2008, but African-American women made just 68% and Latinas 58%.

— Controlling for education and experience, that number rises to 81%.

— Controlling for field and unionization, it rises to 91% — because there are more women in lower-paying industries.

But, a pay gap exists even in female-dominated fields. Female secretaries make 83.4% as much as male ones.

— And in some male-dominated fields. Female truck drivers take home 76.5% as much as male drivers.

The Harvard Business Review's Sarah Green offers a handy graphical representation of these numbers. Though she puts the wage gap after controlling for all other factors at 95%, there's still a pesky 5% that can't really be explained away. She also notes that this percentage appears to grow over time — to 12% after woman has been working 10 years. The American Association of University Women says this "suggests that discrimination may worsen over time or that the effects of gender discrimination are cumulative."

Fitzpatrick points out that women are more likely to take time off or work part-time to raise a family, an effect Anneli Knight of the Sydney Morning Herald calls "the hour-glass ceiling." Dr. Lyndall Strazdins of the Australian National University explains,

The way time is shared within families is completely different depending on whether you are a mother or a father. Virtually all senior jobs are full time and most of those have long hours. If you think what a mother has behind her, she's got a partner who is not going to bend his working time, on average, so she enters those jobs with a different back story to what a man might.

Of course, there's always the guy who says this is women's fault. The Times Schott's Vocab blog excerpted Knight's story, and here's what one commenter said:

You can't have everything. Male or Female, If you chose to spend your resources on family then you will NECESSARILY have less resources for pursuing other things. Even though you may not realize it, you picked it.

Of course, this point isn't new, and people who make it are usually operating under the erroneous assumption that women are demanding the exact same division of work and childcare they have now, except with more money. But all women and their advocates are really asking for is what men have long enjoyed: the freedom to have both a family and a fair wage. The way the economy is currently structured may actually grant this to men at the expense of women — giving the holders of full-time jobs little or no flexibility because it's assumed their wives will take care of things at home. Even if this were fair, which it obviously isn't, it doesn't work in an economy where two-earner families are often a necessity. And the widespread expectation that women will shoulder most of the childcare even if they do work full-time is not something women have "picked."

Claiming that women's unconscious choices are responsible for all gender inequalities is a pretty ingenious gambit, because it's hard to argue against. If these decisions are truly unconscious, and we don't even know we're making them, we'd better leave it up to dudes on the Internet to explain our lives to us. Problem solved! Except that by buying into such logic, men end a discussion about work-life balance that could benefit them too, and managers continue underusing and discriminating against half their workforce. The pay gap actually costs everyone — it's too bad not everyone sees it.

Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men? [Time]
Hour-Glass Ceiling [NYT Schott's Vocab Blog]
Time For Women To Tackle The 'Hour-Glass' Ceiling [Sydney Morning Herald]
Investigating the Pay Gap [Harvard Business Review]