Unequal Pay: For Women Only – Part One.

American women who work for wages or a salary, on the average, earn 77 cents when American men earn one (1) dollar, also on the average.

You have to be careful of averages. They are not naturally vicious but they are often used to deceive. That is, people routinely overestimate themselves and don’t slow down enough to understand what they are seeing and hearing when an average is mentioned.

Here is a little practice exercise: Suppose all women who lack education beyond high school quit work completely. (They might go on welfare or they might find hard working husbands, maybe currently illegal immigrants – Not a bad idea actually, if I say so myself!) If this happened, what would become to the 77 cents on the dollar?

(The answer is several paragraphs below.)

Consider also that “on the average” means, of course, that there are many women who earn more money than many men, women in government, for example. Take the female toll-takers at the Golden Gate Bridge, for example. They earn about $100,000 a year for very low-skill work. They thus earn much more than male cable-television technicians who do things most of us don’t even know enough to think about. (There are female cable technicians of course, but that’s not the point, right now.) That’s compatible with the 77 cents on the dollar figure.

That women earn on the average 77 cents when men earn a full dollar speaks of rampant and rank discrimination against women where it matters most, the workplace. Or does it?

Below are some relevant facts that all of President Obama’s economic employers know. I mean that the facts are so well-known that it’s inconceivable that they don’t know them.

  • Fact: On the average, working women have less education and less seniority than men. That’s on the average.

As it happens levels of pay, in many industries depend largely on seniority (rightly or wrongly). Access to the best paid jobs in a given industry also depends much on level of education. Access to superior and well-paid jobs also often depends on achieving seniority. That’s a double-whammy on low education!

Answer to the question near the beginning of this essay: If women who had no college dropped out of the workforce, female workers would, on the average, suddenly have higher educational achievement. Then, the average pay of women nation-wide would go up. If all the women with no college education dropped out of the workforce, the 77 cents on the dollar would immediately disappear. I don’t know what the resulting number would be; it might be 80 cents on the dollar, or 90 cents on the dollar. What is certain is that it would be a higher, better number.

Repeat: If all the low-skill jobs requiring a modest level of education disappeared all of a sudden, if all the women holding such jobs lost their jobs, the average pay of women, including as compared to me, would immediately go up.

This is not some sort of foggy speculation, it’s an arithmetic certainty.

Similarly, if more women in the workforce had high seniority, the average pay of women nation-wide would also be higher than 77 cents on men’s dollar. Here too, it’s a mathematical certainty although I don’t know by how much the figure would change. This is all by way of remembering what averages mean.

  • Fact: Working women concentrate in economic sectors where wages are historically low.

That’s low wages for both men and women. Sometimes, there are no understandable reason why pay is low in such sectors. Often it’s a sort of historical accident connected with an early union activity in those sectors of the economy. Sometimes there are good direct reasons for the high pay in sectors where women are rare. Blue collar work on oil platforms and commercial fishing are both examples of activities where few women are found. They are also dangerous activities. They are also physically strenuous activities. In those two particular sectors, pay is much higher than it is say, in the health industries, or in retail where many women areemloyed. This means that both men and women employed in fishing and on oil, platforms earn more money than either men or women in many other industries.

The average lower pay of women nationally is at least in part the result of their low participation in these highly paid industries. If there were equal numbers of women in those high-pay sectors as there are men, the national average pay of women would be higher than 77 cents on men’s dollar.

  • Fact: Among those who work forty hours a week or more (“full time”), men work much longer hours than women on the average.

It’s often the case that, other things being equal, those who work longer hours earn more money than those who work shorter hours. They earn more for the total number of hours they work. (They may also be promoted faster but that’s not my point here; one thing at a time.) Incidentally, this is true both for base workers, such as assembly line workers and sales associates, and for so-called “exempt personnel,” personnel in supervisory and management positions. The mechanisms are different, union rules, formal pay scales and government-mandated requirements (think overtime pay), in one case, alleged “merit pay,” on the other. The results are similar: Work more; earn more.

Women earn less money than men on the average than men because they spend less time at work than men do.

Now, close your eyes and let me describe two imaginary workers. One has 25 years of seniority and three years of post-high school education. The same worker is employed in mining. Over the course of a year, this worker puts in 46 hours a week on average.

The second worker has one year of junior college and has been on the same job for eight years. That worker’s occupation is in one of the health industries. Calculated over one year, this second worker puts in 40 hours plus twenty minutes a week on average.

Now, keep your eyes closed and forbid yourself from stereotyping. You don’t know the sex of either imaginary worker. Keep in mind that they may well be of the same sex, for example (for example). One or the other, or something else…

Which of the two fully employed workers do you think earns the most money in one year in actuality?

Which do you think should earn the most money according to your own standard of fairness?

You get my drift?

It turns out that when studies compensate for these important factors, American women’s remunerations are about the same as men’s. That’s still on the average. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you could find a female fisherman with 25 years seniority and a doctorate who earns less money than her husband, a high school dropout who works in a candle shop. The relevant numbers are simply too small to affect comparisons of national averages.

Yes, women earn less than men but it’s not a case of unequal pay for equal work. It’s a case of unequal pay for unequal work.
It’s worth asking why women would heap upon themselves so many of the factors that result in comparatively low pay? I mean low education, low seniority, and working in less generously paying sectors.

You probably have your own hypotheses (plural) about why this is. Let me help with an additional fact:

  • Fact: Women who are not married, have never been married, and have no children earn as much as men. Are you really surprised?

Many other studies confirm what we all already know: Women are the primary caretakers of both home and children by a long, long shot.

The care of children interferes vigorously with women’s ability to reach for higher paid jobs, and with their attention to their paid work, and to their ability to work long hours. It’s that simple.

Women workers fail to accumulate seniority because they quit working earlier and more frequently than men. They tend to move in and out of the workforce; that’s inimical to the accumulation of seniority, of course.

Women workers have less education than men workers, on the average, for slightly (only slightly) more complex reasons. At the lower end of the pay-scale women who work outside the home are not equivalent to men workers in general. For one thing, many low-paid working women, and increasing numbers of them, are single women raising their children alone. But we know that women with lower educational status are more likely to find themselves in that situation than women with more formal education.

Married women with children have on the average, more education than single women with children. Such married women are less likely to be in the workforce at all . Instead, their husbands are. Their husbands’ higher education and seniority enter into the national statistics. Their non-working wives’ also high numbers don’t because they are not in the labor force, precisely.

If all married women joined the labor force, the gap in education between employed men and employed women on average would shrink. It might even vanish altogether.

That would raise women’s average pay nation-wide, although the fate of poor ly educated, low seniority, women employed in badly paying sectors would not improve one bit.

If all married women joined the labor force and stayed in it, employed women’s seniority would equal men’s after a while. That would raise women’s average pay nation-wide.

The pay of women with low seniority would….
(Complete the sentence; this is a test!)


Those who claim the 77 cents on the dollar figure are comparing apples and oranges.

Those in government who do this know the facts. Why are they doing it?

Now, once you have taken account all facts above, the things we already know about different ways in which women and men deal with work, women on the average still earn a little less than men. The difference is much smaller than the difference between 77 and 100 (77 cents and one dollar). Nevertheless, as I write, I think it’s possible to argue that this small difference – maybe something like 5 percentage points – proves some degree of pay discrimination against women.

By the way, I don’t play down at all this kind of pay differential. If you gross $30,000/year, 5% more would be $1,500. Even with standard deductions, that’s a round-trip ticket to someplace, even someplace interesting.

In Part Two of this essay, I will leave the domain of what’s well know, of what the president ought to know, and I will take you with me on a trip of honest, frank speculations about women’s work.

Don’t forget to come back. The best portion is yet to come!

Tech. note: Anyone is welcome to challenge any of the assertions above. Here are the rules I play by: I you give me a general reading assignment, I won’t do it. It’s too easy to waste someone’s time on a wild goose chase. If you don’t bother to say, “Read this because it shows ‘this assertion of yours…’ to be false ,” don’t expect me to make the effort either. Also, evidence that does not come from a respected refereed journal is unlikely to make much of an impression on me.

23 thoughts on “Unequal Pay: For Women Only – Part One.

  1. “Here are the rules I play by: I you give me a general reading assignment, I won’t do it. It’s too easy to waste someone’s time on a wild goose chase. If you don’t bother to say, “Read this because it shows ‘this assertion of yours…’ to be false ,” don’t expect me to make the effort either. Also, evidence that does not come from a respected refereed journal is unlikely to make much of an impression on me.”

    These are fair and equitable rules. When you follow them, I’ll accept the following assertion:

    “It turns out that when studies compensate for these important factors, American women’s remunerations are about the same as men’s.”

    Until you follow your own rules I’ll assume you’re making it up out of whole cloth.

  2. Terry, Terry: More indirection; no willingness to state your viewpoint clearly; over-eagerness to give assignments (and eventually to distribute unexplained bad grades!); procedural cattle poopoo.

    I did not impose any procedure myself; I just indicated what I would be likely to read and what not. Readers are free to ignore my preferences. They may want to give sources I am unlikely to consider for the edification of other readers. (Anything from the Democratic Central Committee, for example, I would ignore.) Readers are free to look for their own information for or against what I assert. That’s what I hope they will do, by the way.

    Are you saying that the statement above is not true? Or do you merely want to avoid missing a chance to insult me? Do you really, really believe that I would make up this important statement “out of whole cloth” ? That’s a “yes” or “no” question.

    • Really? I was under the impression that there was no “gender wage gap.” The myth of the gender wage gap is the first thing that was tackled in my introductory Honors Statistics course at the community college I attended in Left-wing Santa Cruz, California (my teacher was a dues-paying member of the union, a Democrat, and a hell of a guy).

      Do you have any evidence to suggest that there is a gap, or that Dr Delacroix is full of poo?

    • I’m not writing an essay trying to convince anyone of anything. He made a factual assertion with no attribution. If there is no gender wage gap when controlling for other factors it should be easy to find support in the labor economics literature. Remember this assertion was made in the “stuff everyone knows” first essay. Personally I think it’s Jacques’ responsibility to support his assertions but if you want to find an article in a respectable refereed journal that will work just as well. Perhaps the course outline will have some leads.

    • @Brandon
      1995 American Journal of Sociology is a good place to start. Took me about 3 minutes so I guess the burden was too great for the good doctor.

  3. Here is my general policy about attributions:

    I follow a small number of topics attentively. (The gender gap is one.) When I read anything regarding these topics I make a mental note of the rating I give the source: gold, silver, bronze, everything else. That’s easy to remember, even for a senior citizen-writer.

    My rating scheme is not original. Gold goes to major, well respected scholarly journals that are peer-reviewed. The American Journal of Economics would be one. (In a later Comment, I will provide the link to my Facts Matter posting explaining in detail the process of peer reviewing.) Silver goes to second-tier also peer-reviewed journals. Social Forces – where my most important article was published – would be an example of a silver journal. Silver journals may be just as competitive as gold journals but they have less heft, for a variety of reasons that are probably legitimate. Bronze sources include a wide variety of specialized scholarly journals such as Studies in Comparative International Development. Bronze ratings also go to signed items from the Wall Street Journal. This category does NOT include the New York Times. I almost stopped reading it completely in 2003 because of the Jason Blair scandal. (I only read the NYT when I can steal it at the gym.) Below the bronze category, there is everything else. I don’t give much credence, if any, to “Everything else.” When I use it at all, I try to give a warning.

    Finding the sources on which I rely for one essay usually takes me as much time as writing two or three essays. My hands hurt; I have some important things to do; I have many unimportant things to do. I have to chose. Most of the time, I forgo the search for my sources through old files that make me sneeze unless several readers that matter ask for them. Readers that matter to me are mostly young, non-academics and they give the impression of being open-minded. (Obviously, that would not include old Prof. Amburgey who thinks I am a liar.)

    I hope that some readers will be motivated by my essays to do their own research instead of passively accepting either my opinions or politically correct widespread beliefs. I am talking to the seekers not to those who are intent on perpetuating still powerful, yet barely breathing, nearly-dead ideologies. I sometimes fantasize of being accused – like Socrates – of “corrupting the youth.”

    A personal note to finish. I had a long conventional scholarly career. I have little left to prove in that area. (See for yourself. There is a link to my vita on my blog Facts Matter.) I now want to do anything I wish and only that. Since I left academia in 2006, I have entered into a new, wonderful teaching enterprise. I have never felt more satisfaction than now because most my “students” (readers) are lively, intellectually engaged volunteers who talk back. This pleasure demands that I maintain a lively rhythm of posting. A few formal strictures have to be sacrificed for me to be able to maintain his rhythm. It’s well worth it. Let others try to do conventional scholarly postings on line. I wish them well.

  4. @Brandon

    “The first finding is important. It shows that occupation-establishment
    segregation accounted for more of the gender wage gap than any other variable or set of variables currently used in studying the gender wage gap. Occupational segregation accounts for about 40%
    of the wage gap, while human capital and other variables account for about 40% (e.g., Treiman and Hartmann 1981, chap. 2). But no set of variables, either individual or structural, accounts for as much as 89%, as occupation­ establishment segregation did here in the case of
    blue-collar and clerical employees in the IWS data.

    This first finding establishes the conjecture already made in the litera­ ture but not yet documented: wage differences are to a larger extent generated by occupation-establishment segregation than by within-job wage discrimination. Along with the first, the second finding shows the need to study establishment as well as occupational segregation. The third finding confirms what has already been established for California (Bielby and Baron 1984), but using data covering the entire United States and information on about 30 and 20 times as many employees and establishments respectively, though focusing on a narrower set of occupations.

    The implications of the findings are straightforward. In terms of policy, allocative and valuative processes should be given the most attention, and within-job wage discrimination, which is covered by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and which has been the implicit or explicit focus of much discussion and research, should receive less. Future research on differen­tial wage attainment between men and women should be refocused as follows. The emphases should be less on within-job wage discrimination and more on three prior processes. The first is the entry of employees into occupations and establishments, that is, the differential access of men and women to positions during the initial hiring or matching process, an allocative mechanism, a topic that is not easy to research (see Collinson, Knights, and Collinson 1990). The second is career advancement within establishments, that is, the differential rates of promotion for men and women, also an allocative mechanism, a line of research already well under way (e.g.,
    Spilerman 1986). The third is how jobs occupied primarily by women tend to be paid less than those occupied by men, the comparable worth issue, or what we refer to as valuative discrimina­tion, also a line of research already well under way (see England 1992).”

    Separate and Unequal: Occupation-Establishment Sex Segregation and the Gender Wage Gap. Author(s): Trond Petersen and Laurie A. Morgan. Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 101, No. 2 (Sep., 1995), pp. 329-365

    If the bona fides are uncertain for you, you can always go to google scholar and compare the citations for Professors Delacroix and Petersen. Accessing the article requires access to Jstor which usually means going through the library of a university or college. I can email a pdf copy to you if you want to read it yourself

    • Thanks Prof Terry, but I don’t see where the Petersen and Morgan paper rebuts Dr J’s argument.

      In fact if you read through the excerpt you provided, the Petersen and Morgan paper simply rehashes Dr J’s post.

      On a side note: At least Petersen spells his name right!

    • Au contraire Dr. Delacroix focuses on factors that [apparently] account for roughly 40% of the differential. He ignores the structural factors that dominate. They don’t fit with his blame-the-victim approach to most social ills. Just to make sure we’re on the same wavelength, summarize his argument. It seems to me that he has ‘rehashed’ others without any mention of occupational effects, establishment effects and most importantly their interaction. His tendency towards wordiness helps obfuscate lack of content, perhaps you can point me to them.

      Only one of us has actually followed the Delacroix Rules. Perhaps he will have something more recent although I’m not holding my breath.

    • Heck, I don’t need to summarize his position, I found an excellent quote:

      Yes, women earn less than men but it’s not a case of unequal pay for equal work. It’s a case of unequal pay for unequal work.

      Do you disagree with this argument? I ask because the paper you excerpted does not, so if you want to debunk Dr J’s argument you’re going to have to come up with another source.

      PS: I would love a pdf of the paper, thanks for offering.

      PPS: “Blame-the-victim approach”? Getting a bit hyperbolic, aren’t we? If you are unable to find any evidence to debunk Dr J’s argument, would you be willing to condemn the current administration and all the others who continue to peddle this nonsense even though they know better (but realize that this noble lie gets votes)?

  5. Brandon: It would fairer to say that Delacroix re-hashes the other guys. I don’t mind if someone extends the discussion – even with 20-year old articles – rather than micturate an acidic derivative of wine or apples or grain. (I am really watching my language!)

  6. If seniority, education, participation in high-paying industries together account for 95% of the difference between average women’s remuneration and average men’s remuneration, there is little left to explain of the wage gap. It’s also true that it’s possible, with the right methods, to displace these factors and to replace them with other factors that are more convincing, or that explain more than 95%, or both. I would like to see this done in a systematic manner. I would be impressed by any article published in a reasonably respetable peer-reviewed journal that does just that. I will do the reading if I believe the person directing me to it is genuinely trying to improve my and readers’ understanding.

    Cherry picking couched in pseudo-scientific jargon is not a proper substitute. Incidentally, I am not stating categorically that there is no wage discrimination against women. It seems to me that the numbers don’t indicate that there is much, if any. It’s also not credible for reasons I explain with exquisite simplicity in Part One and in Part Two of my essay.

    I detest the demagoguery, the falseness, the cyniscism involved in the president’s recent speech. I hate the exploitation it involves. Most forms of affirmative action turn out to be disasters for this society.

    I do want female workers to be paid the same as men for the same work and for the same amount of work. There is an inherent problem in the fact that women shoulder such a disproportionate share of the task of taking care of children. The solution to this problem – if there is a solution – does not reside in distorting wages and salaries in yet another way.

    I must be paranoiac because I can already see the profile of yet another federal bureaucracy to be founded forever to solve the pseudo-problem of the wage gap, also forever.

  7. […] All the same, I keep an open mind. Anyone who wants to post a comment on GMOs can be sure it will not be censored or modified in any way. I will also consider with great interest any essay on this topic for this blog. Anyone can also send me reading assignments. I will post them but I will not read them unless the sender explains clearly why I should, beginning with the source. (See the standards I apply here) […]

  8. Thanks for posting this, and for the ongoing discussion. By the end it seems there is, as Jacques says, clarity that women’s work as carers is unrecognised financially and that this is a problem, and that women, on average, are generally underperforming in educational achievement and are at a disadvantage financially in the types of jobs/career they pursue; although there remains a disagreement about the extent of disadvantage women suffer when doing the same job as a man.
    Jacques reserves his strongest language for the behaviour of the Obama adminsitration in addressing the issues in this, as he sees it, dishonest way, but I would be interested in reading about llibertarian solutions to the, in my opinion, much more important issues of inequality that were identified, and agreed upon as being real in the piece. Railing against decieving government ‘messages’ I understand, but doesn’t a failure to address solutions to the substantive issues risk leaving an, in the end, inconsequential contribution.

  9. Westeuropean: I agree with the idea that there is a need for a real political discussion on his issue, IF ANY. What the Obama administration is doing is pre-empting such a discussion by confirming in the minds of the electorate the false notion that it’s a fact, undebatable, that there is widespread discrimination against women in the workplace although it has been against the law for forty years. It’s as if he were establishing the belief that there is still a, lot of black slavery in America.

    My central argument may not be what you understood (my fault). I don’t say that women are underachieving in education at all. Rather, the women who are in the workplace are not comparable to the men who are in the workplace. Almost all rich, well educated men participate; their rich well- educated wives do not participate in large numbers. Poor, uneducated women are often forced to participate. That’s either because their husbands are poor and uneducated themselves and thus, don’t earn much, or, it’s because they are not married. These facts are enough for the earnings of women on the average, to be lower than the earnings of men on the average. This is not a matter of policy, this is not a sociological issue, it’s pure arithmetic.

    I often wonder what President Obama knows. I am quite sure all his economic advisers understand this.

    Still missing form the discussion is the preponderant role of child care in accounting for many women’s inferior earnings. Americans have become frightened to talk about certain topics. Try one this one: Hypothesis: Women like to take care of children. It’s a form of consumption.

    I have not done the research. I don’t know whether the hypothesis is correct. There is little discussion of this obvious topic and only by half of the potential thinkforce: women, brave women.

    Thanks for your comment. Where are you located?

    • jacques
      I live in Berlin but spend some time each year in Liverpool in England.
      Thanks for the correction of my understanding of your point re. women and educational achievement.
      I first came across the ‘notes on liberty’ site after your fellow contributor Brandon ‘liked’ a piece i wrote on my blog, ‘the hollowness of the times’. I’d be interested in what you make of it.

      For me the key issue is how do we as a society raise the status and financial rewards of the people, who are mainly women, who care not only for children, but also the elderly, and disabled or sick relatives and friends…..and who are doing it willingly, that is to say, they want to do it, but also because if they don’t do it , who else is going to?…..and they often hold down poorly paid jobs outside the home too.

      Any half sentient being living, as I do, in what used to be Communist East Germany understands the danger of overweening state control, but would it really need the new federal bureaucracy you fear to raise the minimum wage, to increase affordable child care and provide more relief support for carers?

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