Dissecting the gender wage gap


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We hear it all the time: “Men get paid more than women.” Sometimes it comes with a number: “Women earn 77 percent of what men earn.” We watch politicians, television pundits and activists push legislation to remedy the problem.

But what if I told you, much to my own surprise, that the 23 percent wage gap can be accredited to factors other than discrimination? Let’s dissect the pay gap.

In a way, the proposition makes little common sense. If a woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, why would any profit-based business hire a man? Why pay a man $100,000/year when you could pay an equally qualified woman $77,000 for the same job? If that were true, would women not dominate the workplace? Instead, they make up roughly 47 percent of the workforce.

The American Association of University Women, or AAUW, recently studied the earnings of employees one year out of college. They used new college graduates to avoid clouding the data with cases of women who leave the workplace to have children — one of the leading contributors to the pay gap. What did they find among recent college graduates? Women graduate to a pay gap of roughly 82 percent. This seems like bad news for you ladies here at MSU.

Maybe life is not quite so simple, though. A little examination indicates men and women sometimes have different tendencies, especially when it comes to the type of work they choose. Women make up 88 percent of students in health services and 81 percent of education majors, while men make up 81 percent of computer science majors and 82 percent of engineering majors. (This explains why my computer science major roommate is always complaining about the lack of women in his classes).

These choices result in much different pay scales later in life. The average salary of a high school teacher, for instance, is $54,270 while the average computer programmer earns $72,630 per year. The choice of field can account for a good portion of the pay gap. (On a side note, don’t ever let someone tell you a certain major isn’t suited for your gender).

Studies from the Department of Labor suggest the average male works roughly 45 hours per week, while the average female works roughly 42 hours per week. What does this three hour work difference translate to in terms of income? Controlling for gender, that three additional hours of work accounted for a 14 percent increase in average income. Men appear to just work more hours.

So what did the AAUW find when it accounted for some of these factors? When accounting for type of university, major, GPA and hours worked, the pay gap shrunk to 7 percent.

Seven percent is better, but still inexcusable. The AAUW study concludes the 7 percent deficiency is because of discrimination. Our analysis, however, will not stop there.

Warren Farrell, a former board member of the National Organization for Women and an outspoken supporter of second wave feminism, did a more in-depth analysis in his book “Why Men Earn More.” When Mr. Farrell controlled for factors, such as location (obviously, it would be better to be a computer programmer in Silicon Valley than the Saginaw Valley), years of experience, how far one commutes and a few others, the pay gap shrinks to virtually zero percent.

Generally, the further one is willing to commute, the more opportunity for additional pay. On average, men commute an additional eight miles per day, which translates to an additional $1,500 per year.

The United States Department of Labor released a study in 2009 confirming this conclusion. It concluded, “This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion 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. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

Additionally, the Jobs Rated Almanac rated the 250 best jobs in America by looking at factors, such as income, work environment, security and stress. Of the 25 worst jobs — which include jobs such as mail carrier, and meter reader — the workforce averaged a makeup of 92 percent men.

And I am going to let the ladies in on a secret. There are countless professions in which women outearn men by a significant margin.

The average female aerospace engineer makes 11 percent more than her male counterpart. The average female sales engineer outearns the average male sales engineer by 43 percent. The average female financial analyst earns 18 percent more. The average female statistician earns 35 percent more and the average female biological technician earns 22 percent more. There are countless others.

Does this mean discrimination does not exist? Absolutely not. There always will be cases of discrimination. It appears, however, in the grand scheme of things, women no longer are victims of pay discrimination.

This idea might upset some people — it is not meant to. In fact, the efforts of equal rights advocates should be applauded, as it appears they might have achieved one of their many admirable goals — equal pay.

Alex Brooks is a guest columnist at The State News and an economics senior. Reach him at brook194@msu.edu.

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