I first posted this in February of 2014. Each year the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases new pay numbers that say women still make less than men on average. To my many female college students this is both disheartening and demotivating. If the system is “rigged” against them, why bother with school? While there have been more women than men in college for the better part of two decades, there are few women in top executive positions. This isn’t because of our gender, it’s because of our choices. We choose which occupations to go into. We choose whether or not to have children. These are the factors that decide pay, not gender.

I offer this original post for your review with one addition. In January 15, 2016 the BLS released this report stating, “Women’s earnings 83 percent of men’s, but vary by occupation.” It seems the full scope is finally being reported. Here is the original blog from 2014 that details my argument that the gender pay gap is actually the parent pay gap. 

For the first time in my professional career, I’m part of a business community group that has nothing to do with school or church. I get to interact with “real” business owners and professionals and I don’t even have to grade anything they write. *Bonus.* So far, I enjoy these people and am navigating my way, as a naturally shy person, through the difficulties of speaking in favor of small businesses and the continued (re)vitalization of our small-ish downtown business sector. During our meeting last week, one of my counterparts on the committee, an old hippie whose adorable insolence about all things government really adds some flavor, threw out a gender description that I haven’t encountered in a while. Luckily it wasn’t toward me, because I’m still recovering from an earlier incident. He directed a good-natured and sincere question to two female real estate professionals across the table by saying this, “let me ask you real estate girls something.” 

For the love, as Jen Hatmaker would say.

I couldn’t help but turn to my counterpart, a male banker, and grimace. He did the same. About ten minutes later hippie-business-owner finished his spiel, which is when I asked my follow up question to his original. I prefaced it this way, “let me ask the banker boys something about that. And the city boys, you too.” People, these are professional bankers, a city planner and a non-profit director to whom I addressed my completely sarcastic and nonessential question, just to make a point.  

It sounded ridiculous, as intended. I think I sounded like an ass, but I just can’t take it anymore. Here’s my point: we’re women with choices about what to do with our careers. Be it raising our children as our full-time career or choosing to work outside of the home to pursue a different career. I’m not a girl. I raise girls. There’s a difference because they are 10 and 8 and can’t yet reproduce. 

Mommmmm! Gross! <Emily
The Bureau of Labor Statistics must have released a new pay equity study recently, because I’ve heard/seen this statistic at least five times in the last two days between the radio, television and MSN.com. It always goes something like this: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women make 77% of what men make. That’s 77 cents for every $1. <insert witty remark about women being treated unfairly or how society needs to wake up or what a shame or save us Hillary, blah, blah, blah.> Thanks for the interpretation, radio persona, because it seems we’re not stupid enough already, us girls.

Right now you’re thinking, oh great, this is a post about gender pay equity, feminism, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and bra burning. Here we go. Where’s that red x in the corner of the page?

No, just about the gender pay gap and how I think it’s crap. 
What? OMG, she’s lost her mind. 

Or rather, we’re not getting the whole story. 

That’s right. I’m going to say it. The gender pay gap is pretty much a myth. Really, it’s the parent pay gap. Let’s just stop right now perpetuating the mindset that a majority of women are paid less than men solely because they have different body parts. Boobs don’t make you poorer. A vagina doesn’t disqualify you from the executive ranks. Can I say that? <husband cringing upon reading this post, as usual>
Let me tell you what this does to the psyche of women about to graduate from college. Every single time this statistic is aired, in some similar fashion, they feel a little more discouraged. I’ll have to fight harder, work longer, be stronger, delay having a family in order to prove myself worthy next to my male counterpart(s). I have to be better, look thinner, move faster, win more. 

You know what? They’re right. And they’re doing it. Mass media is not dolling out the details of the BLS findings to uncover other juicy tidbits that may make our young women understand why these statistics are trotted out every year. There’s a lot more in that report that is favorable. 

This is why I think quantitative research is superficial. There’s always a story behind the number that gets left in the shadows.

But I digress. Moving on.

That 77% number? If you add up all of the income, sort it by gender and hit “calculate”, that’s what’s reported. It’s sensationalism at its best. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s October 2013 report highlighting the 2012 earnings of women, part-time work, education level, occupational distribution and age are important indicators of gender pay equity. And then I have my theory. I’ll save that for later.

Looking at this chart. I see full-time women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s – wait, not at 77% – but around 82%, higher last year at about 83%. More importantly, the trend is steadily increasing each year. “Between 1979 and 2012, women’s-to-men’s earnings ratios rose for most age groups. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, for example, the ratio increased from 68% in 1979 to 90% in 2012. For 45- to 54-year olds, the ratio increased from 57% to 75%” (BLS, 2013, p. 2).

Wait a second. I’ve never heard that on the radio.

Women who worked part-time had similar median earnings compared to their male counterparts. There’s a $10 difference per week; women make 98% of what men make when looking at part-time workers. 

Wait, what? I’ve never heard that on the radio either.
Speaking of part time, 43% of male part-time workers were young (16-24) compared with 29% of females the same age. So, many more young females are working full-time. I think this is due to the significant strides of women in higher education. There are more women than men in college right now. What could this mean for our future? The statistics are already starting to reveal important trends that will be reflected in the upcoming generation of workers. 

This chart shows us, dear reader, that women fare much better than men at each level of education. Even without a high school diploma, the decline in inflation-adjusted earnings was much less significant for women (-14%) than men (-32%). Earnings for women with a college degree have increased by 28% since 1979. Men’s earnings have only increased by 17% during the same time period. 

Just wait, it gets better.

See this chart? It may look like a regular ‘ol boring bar graph, but it tells a story. 

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved to build stuff, so she went to work as a construction laborer who made, on average, $14.42 an hour. At the same time, there was a boy who loved children, so he took a job as a day care aid making, on average, $9.38 an hour. 

Hey, Disney! I’ve got your next Frozen right here!

I chose these two occupations to make a point. More females tend to congregate in occupations such as office and administrative support (i.e. secretary, customer service, billing), service (i.e. retail, education, healthcare) and professional jobs (i.e. legal, accounting, design) – traditionally lower paying on average than sales, management, maintenance and production/transportation. Within the professional category, for example, “the proportion of women employed in the higher paying job groups is much smaller than the proportion of men” (BLS, 2013, p. 2). For example, merely 9% of women were employed in the relatively high-paying computer and engineering fields versus 45% of men. Women were more likely to work in education and healthcare in which the pay is generally lower (68% compared to 30% of men).

Women, our career choices have determined our pay and are contributing to the overall gender pay gap.

Even if they are staying within the same job categories, we’re teaching them to negotiate their salary, which was a major failing of gen-x and y women. Nobody told us to negotiate, not to mention how. We just took the pay they offered, said thank you kind sir, curtseyed and got our nails done on the way home.

Ok, no, but you get the gist.

Here’s the biggest thing that the media doesn’t tell the general public either. Women 25-34 earned 90% of what men earned – even with the congregation of more women in lower paying industries. What’s more? 16-24 year old women were not far behind at 89%. 

Here’s how I explain it to my students – both men and women. We talk about the latest BLS numbers that were reported and I give them my spiel about the occupational clustering affecting the overall pay discrepancies between genders. Then I ask them if they grew up in dual income households their entire life. 

About half raise their hands. Here’s what I hear most often: Mom worked part-time when I was young and then (a) went back to school, (b) went back to work full-time, (c) kept working part-time, (d) ate bon-bons on the couch while watching her “stories.” Ok, they never say (d). 

Really, they are the problem – those dang kids. Dr. Francine Blau, award winning economist and expert in the gender pay gap explains several reasons for the gap. First, she said women have traditionally been less qualified than men, probably due to an unequal number of women pursuing higher education, which is being remedied with this generation of women as I type this sentence. Second, women traditionally moved in and out of the workforce which created an experience gap. Thus, their wages were naturally lower in relation to men because of this. 

It makes sense that if we choose to have less experience, for whatever reason, our pay will decrease. Right?

Rising to the executive ranks within a company, where the real money is made in business, takes time. It takes an entire career for most people. Late career-stage women in 2013 needed to have made the choice to Lean In in the 1990’s. Society was still warming to this issue, if I recall.

When Blau and her research partner, husband Lawrence Kahn, further studied the issue and controlled for factors such as human capital, occupation and industry – women make 91% of men’s salary. This unexplained gap, 9%, is possibly due to discrimination, but they aren’t really sure. 

Like, really, they don’t know. Brilliant economists haven’t a clue.

In other words, you take a man and a woman in the same occupation with the exact same amount of experience, time on the job, educational level and expertise -the gap is, at maximum, 9%. 

That’s a whole bunch less than what’s being reported every stinkin’ year, over and over and over. 

I think the gap really happens when women, more often than men, choose to opt out of the full time job situation for family reasons. A women on maternity leave has six weeks less face time, less  experience, less opportunities, less time than a male counterpart who did not. 

Multiply this for all the women in the U.S., plus the added reasons above and, well, there’s your gap. It’s not discrimination. It’s choice. We choose to raise families. Is it fair? No. Have we as a society done a better job at instituting fairer family leave policies, addressing work-life balance issues, recognizing the importance of wellness and creating more robust paternity leave policies? Yes.


Ben Waber recently wrote a piece in Bloomberg Business week  about gender bias by the numbers. He and his colleagues found that in the workplace, “we reward men for being parents but punish women – that’s gender bias” (p. 9). He argues the cognitive biases are the far greater challenge. Attitudes are hard-wired into the minds of men and women to view men with children as more responsible and hence, more desirable job candidates. In contrast, women with children were viewed as more likely to sacrifice job duties for family commitments than men. 

Did you catch that? Men and women job candidates were viewed this way by men and women employers. They were not actually this way.

<head in hands, sigh>

Right now, I believe a cultural shift is happening and we’ll see it really take hold the millennial generation. Parenthood will not be viewed as lesser than, but in addition to. 

So, girls, keep at it. You’re doing fine. 
Society will eventually catch up.