The Facts on Pay EquityJuly 11, 2008
AAUW’s 2007 Behind the Pay Gap report has been referenced by a few writers recently, especially now that Sen. Barack Obama has begun talking more about the wage disparity between men and women. In fact, the senator has used a statistic that we often cite: women earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. This has prompted criticism from some commentators who point to Behind the Pay Gap to make their larger point — that the pay gap is “mythical” or that the 77-cent statistic “twists the truth,” says “nothing about discrimination’s extent,” and instead encourages women “to feel victimized and in need of government protection.” They’ll say AAUW’s report attributed the disparity to education and occupation and factors other than employer discrimination.
Here are the facts. Women earn less than men in every field. If a woman and a man make the same choices, will they receive the same pay? The answer is no. While our research indicates that factors like employment and education do account for a portion of the pay gap between men and women, they do not account for the entire wage gap. After controlling for hours worked, occupation, and other factors known to affect earnings, our research indicates that there is STILL a gender gap. One-quarter of the pay gap is unexplained by occupation, experience, hours worked, parenthood, or education and is likely due to sex discrimination.
What’s more, the choices that men and women make are informed by the culture around them. From an early age, girls and boys receive messages about which occupations are suitable for girls and which are suitable for boys, and most children go on to choose a job that is traditional for their gender. Our research shows that there is a direct correlation between the proportion of men in an occupation and annual compensation.
Senator Obama is correct in saying that women earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, and the numbers are worse for women of color. AAUW strongly supports efforts to close the persistent wage gap between men and women. It is critical that we remind the country, our leaders, and presidential candidates that equity is still an issue and that improved laws and effective enforcement are essential to eliminate wage discrimination. We invite anyone interested in equity to join AAUW in the fight to close the wage gap.