Lies, Damned Lies, and the 77 Percent Gender Pay Gap

A pet favorite issue of the left is their claim that women only make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. With this fatal statistic in hand, wage justice warriors are usually quick to call for a whole new wave of regulations and pay mandates to fix such terrible and clear evidence of discrimination.

The famous 77 percent statistic (79.5 percent as of 2014) is misconstrued far too often. Although this statistic varies between different reports, what is clear from them is that the gender pay gap is undeniably real. In general, men do make more than women. The question we need to ask now is “Why?”

Many people present this issue as if the obvious answer is discrimination. Employers supposedly just get a kick out of paying more for male employees than female ones, preferring testosterone to a cheaper work force. In protest to this widespread practice, feminist activists often complain about the wage gap, with high school and college campuses holding “gender equality bake sales” that charge men 30 percent more than women for cupcakes.  President Obama has pushed the issue on several occasions, as have Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

The alleged pay gap is misleading though. What these statistics are looking at is not what people are being paid for the same work, but what the average full time woman makes against the average full time man. It does not take into account differences of occupation. It is, in fact, unequal pay for unequal work.

In a study prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor by CONSAD Research Corporation, the authors even lamented how few people seem to understand this.  “[D]espite these gains the raw wage gap continues to be used in misleading ways to advance public policy agendas without fully explaining the reasons behind the gap.” The actual data paints a picture for women which might not be perfect, but is far better than many so-called wage justice warriors make it out to be.

When accounting for the different career choices women tend to make, the adjusted wage gap was found to be between 4.8 percent and 7.1 percent, meaning women actually make at least 93 cents to 95 cents for every dollar a man makes “for the same work.”

The Department of Labor even indicated that the remainder of this gap may still yet be explained by other non-discriminatory factors not included in the report, concluding 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.”

This is not to say that there are no problems of discrimination or sexism in the US today. But what is clear is that continually dragging out the 77 percent statistic without further explanation is deceptive.

Colin Combs is a research associate with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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