Women earn just 77 or 78 cents to the dollar that men earn.
That line is thrown around so often it must be true, right? As with most outrageous statistics, the shock disappears when you do even a bit of research into its background.
I first heard the claim when I was about 10 years old. My friend's mom told us, apropos of nothing, that men earn more than women simply for being men. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but looking back I see how absurd such a suggestion was. For that to be true, there would be no point to hiring men at all. Employers could just hire all women and cut salary costs by 25 percent.
Which of course isn't happening, because the wage gap isn't some undocumented rule governing America's businesses. The wage gap actually comes from the different career choices men and women make on aggregate — whether it be the hours they work or the occupation they choose.
I don't know how many times this myth has to be busted before people stop repeating it, but here we go again.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler has a great takedown of the myth, giving "two Pinocchios" to those who continue to push it as a means of telling women they're perpetual victims of discrimination. One important factor that Kessler points out is that women often choose lower-paying fields. He includes two lists, the first showing that nine of the 10 highest-paying fields are dominated by men (the second highest-paying profession, pharmaceutical sciences, has slightly more women than men). The second list shows that nine of the 10 lowest-paying fields are dominated by women (theology and religious vocations has vastly more men than women).
Proponents of the wage-gap myth like to claim that the patriarchy pushes women into those less lucrative careers. That's a sad commentary on their way of thinking — their notion that women are simply too dumb or weak to think for themselves and choose the career they actually want. I think the numbers show that women are choosing the careers they prefer but those careers just aren't as lucrative as those chosen by men. There's nothing wrong with that. Do what makes you happy.
Mark J. Perry of the conservative American Enterprise Institute has also taken apart the myth, showing that different lifestyle choices made by women contribute to the wage gap. For instance, married women and women with children tend to make less on average than men. Again, proponents say this is patriarchal discrimination that allows women to make as much as men only if they never marry or have children. I see no discrimination, only women choosing to work less or choosing more flexible careers that let them care for children.
Lisa Maatz, a spokeswoman for the American Association of University Women, confirmed my suspicion years ago. When asked how much of the gender-wage gap is due to discrimination, Maatz — whose organization is one of the biggest proponents of the myth — responded: "We're still trying to figure that out."
Translation: Despite decades of pushing this number, they still have no evidence that discrimination is the reason.
Mark Perry added a new twist on workplace wage gaps this year, pointing out that men account for nearly all fatal occupational injuries. This is due to men choosing (or maybe being forced by the patriarchy?) more dangerous careers like logging and fishing (think Deadliest Catch).
"The higher concentrations of men in riskier occupations with greater occurrences of workplace injuries and fatalities suggest that more men than women are willing to expose themselves to work-related injury or death in exchange for higher wages," Perry wrote. "In contrast, women more than men prefer lower risk, family-friendly occupations with greater workplace safety, and are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the reduced probability of work-related injury or death."
Those who perpetuate the myth of the 23-cent wage gap myth do so even though they know the real reasons for the gap. President Obama continues to claim women earn less than men even though, using the same statistics to arrive at the 77 or 78-cent figure, his administration has its own wage gap. When that was pointed out, the administration responded by saying it was because there are more women in the administration but they hold lower-paying jobs, which skews the average. A side-by-side comparison of men and women working the same jobs found no such wage gap.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was discovered to have her own wage gap during her time as a Senator, based on publicly available data analyzed by the Washington Free Beacon. When confronted with the discrepancy, her spokesman pointed out to the Washington Examiner that women were some of Clinton's highest-paid staffers. Clinton's staff has recently tried to rebut her own wage-gap claim by providing internal data to Buzzfeed that we little people are not privileged to evaluate for ourselves.
But the fact that a deeper explanation exists at all only further proves that the broad numbers we see only make for a useful talking point and little more. Dig down deeper in any office and the wage gap just doesn't hold up to any level of scrutiny. In fact, the only true way to eliminate the supposed gap is to control the choices women make, but that would be a crazy proposition.