WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 2014
Interlude—Are journalists up to the task: How much less do women get paid for doing the same or equal work?
On a sweeping societal basis, it isn’t easy to say.
In the court case which became famous, it was fairly easy to say how less Lilly Ledbetter got paid, as compared to men in her office who held the same position. According to the Supreme Court record, Ledbetter was making $3,727 per month, while men doing the same job were being paid between $4,286 to $5,236 per month.
It isn’t obvious that this would be wrong in every imaginable case. People who hold the job title may not be equally productive.
That said, Ledbetter was being paid less than her male counterparts. But that involved just a few people working in just one office. On a sweeping societal basis, it’s hard to say how much less women get paid, on average, for doing the same or equal work.
Estimates do exist! Wikipedia (and others) will send you to a study for the Labor Department which estimates the gap to be 4.8 to 7.1 cents on the dollar for doing the same work.
In this piece for the Daily Beast, Christina Hoff Sommers said the gap narrows to five cents for doing the same work when all relevant factors are considered, “and no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers.”
At Salon, Katie McDonough has cited a 2003 GAO study which seemed to say that the gap remained at 20 cents after accounting for relevant factors. McDonough has also linked to this post, which seems to suggest that the gap is roughly 12 cents for the same or equal work.
We don’t know what the number should be! As best we can tell, it’s hard to say how much less women get paid, on average, for doing the same or equal work. Different people will have different ideas about what factors must be adjusted for. And the incomes of at least a hundred million people are involved in this analysis.
How much less do women get paid for doing the same work? It’s hard to answer that question for at least two other reasons:
As we’ve noted, our biggest news division have pretty much refused to report or analyze this important topic. And uh-oh:
Beyond that, many journalists have been unwilling or unable to observe the bone-simple distinction which lies at the heart of this question.
Two different “gender wage gaps” are in play when we tackle this question. There is the most famous gender wage gap, in which women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
That is a real statistic. But as everyone we’ve cited agrees, it isn’t a measure of how much women get paid for doing the same or equal work. Instead, it’s a measure of total annual income for the average man and the average woman, before adjustments are made for such factors as hours worked, type of work and seniority.
As such, that famous statistic isn’t a measure of “discrimination.” It represents a total annual income gap. But as everyone on earth agrees, it isn’t a measure of lesser pay for the same work.
To measure that second “gender wage gap,” you have to make those basic adjustments, as is done in all the studies we’ve cited. Among other things, you have to adjust for hours worked, for seniority, for basic type of employment. (Almost everyone seems to agree that those basic adjustments should be made.)
We’re speaking here about a bone-simple distinction. The famous statistic—77 percent—tells us how much women earn, on average, as compared to men.
Some second statistic tells us how much women earn, on average, for doing the same or equal work. The two statistics are not the same. They measure two different things.
The distinction between those two statistics is a bone-simple distinction. But given the way our discourse works, major journalists constantly fail to observe this basic distinction.
Deliberately or through incomprehension, they wander back and forth between the two different types of measure, creating confusion wherever they go. They fail to observe that bone-simple distinction, in which we try to determine how much of the “gender wage gap” is actually due to discrimination or unequal treatment.
Can we talk? In one area after another, our public discourse is deeply unintelligent. In recent decades, there hasn’t been a topic so simple or so basic that our “press corps” was up to the task of explaining it.
That was true back in 1995, in the press corps’ pathetic attempt to clarify the year-long Medicare debate. Was the GOP proposing Medicare cuts? Or were they proposing to slow the rate at which the program would grow?
The press corps wasn’t up to the challenge of sorting that out. Today, they don’t seem to be up to the challenge of discussing the gender wage gap.
Tomorrow, we’ll offer some high-profile examples of their maddening conduct.
How much less do women get paid for doing the same or equal work? The question is important. It’s going to be discussed all year.
But in order to answer that question, we have to observe a bone-simple distinction. Are American journalists up to that task?
As always, the answer would seem to be no. Tomorrow, some cases in point.
Tomorrow: Warning! Experts at work!