Better Understanding the Wage Gap, both Nationally and Locally

I know for a fact that female professors at Randolph College do not always earn what male professors earn, even if they have similar credentials and experience. While it is not possible to dive into specifics for Randolph due to a variety of reasons, one can see similar trends at many public Virginia colleges. The difference is often small – a few hundred dollars, or maybe a thousand – but it’s there.

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The wage gap is something that we hear about constantly from everyone. People – including the President himself – like to say that women only earn 77 cents for each dollar men earn. This isn’t quite right, though. In reality, the 77 cent figure doesn’t give us the entire picture. The 77 cent figure was calculated by taking the median (the middle value in a data set when the entries are lined up in order of quantity) income of men and weighing it against the median income of women. This figure does not control for countless variables, including profession, education, age, or relationship status. It is just lumping everyone together by gender and looking at the middle values.

Better studies exist that help shed light on things. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) conducted a study in which they found that when controlling for a few important factors, such as education, chosen major, and profession, the wage gap shrinks to 6.6 cents. This is still not perfect, but it is far better than a 23 cent gap, and it shows that we are not as far from equality as we once thought.

What’s more is that this same study made a few mistakes that – if corrected – might see that gap shrinking to an even smaller figure. The biggest mistake made might be that they placed a huge range of professions into a single “other” category, which included farmers, coaches, medical technicians, athletes, and military specialists. This is in addition to their “other blue collar” category which has a similar range that includes both lawyers and librarians. Clearly, if you compare the salaries of two drastically different professions, then things are going to be different. Worse than that is the fact that no profession has a perfect gender split and if there are more men in one profession, and said profession makes more money than a female dominated profession, then the gaps between the two of them will be even larger.

So why do people parade the 77 cent figure? Well, most likely haven’t looked too deeply into the studies they’re citing. This is a problem that we need to confront:  over-trust in statistics. We must always remember that statistical data is malleable and it can be presented in dozens of ways to draw different conclusions. I would like to encourage you to look closely at any studies you read in the future – as we have done with the AAUW study above – to see if you would draw their conclusions from the presented data.

Though, this gets away from the real issue:  the 77 cent figure may not be accurate, but there is still a wage gap. Be it a cultural problem, or a systematic one, it’s still a problem. So what do we do about it? Pass laws? Stage protests? Demand better wages? Is this something that we can solve by raising the next generation differently, or by encouraging transparency amongst businesses so that we have a better idea of where the inequalities are? Should we focus on making the climates in male dominated professions more welcoming for women than they currently are?

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I have no idea. This is, as they say, out of my pay grade.

What I do know is that this is a complicated issue that needs honest, transparent public discourse, and we can start such a discourse by looking more closely at the available statistics and drawing our own conclusions.

So what do you think, rioters? Do you have a solution in mind? Does the data here surprise you? When and where will we find the solution that many of us so desperately want?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Photo Credits: ThinkProgress, Veooz

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