Despite continued claims from the White House and media that women earning less than men is solely or entirely due to discrimination, a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report puts that explanation to rest.
The report, released this week, found that women on average made 82.1 cents to the dollar that men earned. At first glance, this 17.9-cent gap still seems high, even though it’s lower than the oft-cited 23-cent figure.
But dig deeper, and one will find that the gap is nearly entirely due to the choices women make in their personal lives. Mark J. Perry, an American Enterprise Scholar, made an incredibly handy chart comparing women’s earnings to men:
Single women with no children earned 96.1 percent of what men with similar characteristics earned — and that doesn’t even begin to factor in career and education choices. As Perry noted, marriage and children have — in terms of earnings — a negative impact for women.
“Therefore, BLS data show that marriage has a significant and negative effect on women’s earnings relative to men’s, but we can realistically assume that marriage is a voluntary lifestyle decision, and it’s that personal choice, not necessarily labor market discrimination, that contributes to much of the gender wage gap for married workers,” Perry wrote.
Another significant factor contributing to the wage gap is the number of hours worked. Married women working full-time and having children under the age of 18 earned only 78.9 percent of what married men with children earned. But there is no evidence this is due to discrimination — the difference was that men were more likely than women to work 40-plus and 60-plus hour work weeks, contributing to higher earnings.
“Once again, we find that marriage and motherhood have a significantly negative effect on women’s earnings; but those lower earnings don’t necessarily result from labor market discrimination, they more likely result from personal family choices about careers, workplace flexibility, child care, and hours worked, etc.,” Perry wrote.
The White House claims that “no matter how you evaluate the data, there remains a pay gap — even after factoring in the kind of work people do, or qualifications such as education and experience — and there is good evidence that discrimination contributes to the persistent pay disparity between men and women.”
But the BLS data found that higher education has actually helped women in the past few decades more than it has helped men. Since 1979, inflation-adjusted median weekly earnings for women with a bachelor’s degree or higher have increased by 32 percent, but just 18 percent for men.
And when it comes to occupation, the BLS only looks at median weekly earnings for those working the same job — it doesn’t take into account marital status. There we see a wage gap in two professions presented by BLS, pharmacists and lawyers. Female pharmacists had median weekly earnings of $1,802, while men earned $2,092 — but that doesn’t take into account marital status or hours worked or time off for children.
We see the same thing for lawyers; women had median weekly earnings of $1,566 while men had earnings of $1,986. But we don’t know what kind of law was practiced or hours worked or marital status or time off for children. BLS even admitted that women tended to choose to work in lower-paying fields.
“Women in professional and related occupations were more likely to work in education and healthcare jobs, in which the pay is generally lower than that for computer and engineering jobs,” the BLS report said.
This means that even though men and women working in the same occupational group may see a wage gap, it’s not the same as saying men and women working the same exact job see a wage gap.
Further, BLS made multiple notes regarding apples to apples comparisons at the end of its report.
“It is important to note that the comparisons of earnings in this report are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be significant in explaining earnings differences,” the report said. “For example, the overall ratio of women’s-to-men’s earnings for full-time workers presented here is not controlled for differences in important determinants of earnings such as age, occupation, and educational attainment.”
BLS also cautioned readers against making the kinds of comparisons that the White House and others in the media consistently make.
“One must be cautious even when attempting to control for one of the important factors that may explain earnings differences. Comparisons of women’s and men’s earnings by detailed occupation, for example, are not simultaneously controlled for differences in key factors such as job skills and responsibilities, work experience, and specialization.”
Good luck finding such qualification in statements made that come from this White House.