A couple days ago, I pointed out how one very common excuse heard from wage gap deniers is false: the idea that women earn less than men because women take large amounts of time off from their careers. The final nail in the coffin for that myth is a GAO report from 2003 that performs a detailed analysis of salary data for men and women, controlling for numerous independent variables such as annual hours worked, time out of the labor force, work experience, highest education achieved, industry, and more. Controlling for all those variables, the study still found a pay gap of over 20% between men and women in the year 2000.
It didn't take long for me to find the myth still being propagated. The very next day, a conservative contributor to the blog Polar Opposite Politics quoted another blog saying:
When I am confronted with evidence that women earn less than men I do not take this as a sign of discrimination. Instead, I point out that if you add to the regression a variable measuring continuous attachment to the work-force the difference in wages fades away.
I pointed out the data directly contradicting this statement, and that got us started in a conversation about this issue (at both his blog and mine), as he continued to insist that the wage gap could be "easily explained away" by women's choices.
One weakness of the GAO study is that it only controlled for occupation via broad categories such as "professional, technical" and "nonfarm laborers." But this does not mean the wage gap can be explained away be different occupational choices by men and women within these broad categories. Further studies demonstrate that the wage gap persists even in much more specific occupational categories. In fact, a significant pay differential exists in virtually every single such category.
The Census Bureau released a study in May 2004 entitled "Evidence From Census 2000 About Earnings by Detailed Occupation for Men and Women." On page 12, it states:
Fifteen of the 20 listed [highest-paid] occupations for men appear on the list [of the 20 highest-paid occupations] for women, and in all cases, the female median is less than that for men. In fact, the occupation third on the list for women makes the same as the occupation last on the list for men ($67,000). A similar pattern is shown for the lowest-paid occupations (Table 6). Sixteen occupations appear on both lists, and in all cases but one ... women make less than men in the same occupation.
In only 11 out of 422 detailed occupations with 10,000 or more year-round full-time workers did the Census Bureau find that female median earnings were statistically indistinguishable from male median earnings.
Among the highest-paid occupations: women physicians and surgeons earn 63% of what men do; women dentists, 62%; women judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers, 57%; women actuaries, 70%; women economists, 82%; women chemical engineers, 80%; women chief executives, 63%.
Among the lowest-paid occupations: women dishwashers earn 86% of what men do; women farmers and ranchers, 60%; women cooks, 88%; women maids and housekeeping cleaners, 79%; women teacher assistants, 75%.
Take this Census data, across 411 out of 422 detailed occupations, combine it with the GAO study that controls for numerous independent variables, and the existence of a wage gap that is not "easily explained away" is readily apparent.
Unfortunately, discrimination, both the overt kind and the more subtle, social-pressure, kind, cannot be measured via studies like these. No one admits to purposefully paying women less for equivalent work. (After all, it is technically against the law these days.) So those who seek to deny the significance of discrimination continue waving their hands and inventing more and more excuses for the huge amounts of data that demonstrate the large pay differential between men and women.
Perhaps, as the Census Bureau hypothesizes for the pay gap for physicians and surgeons, "different degrees of specialization within an occupation and different choices of industry or business organization may affect the ratio. For example, women might choose more frequently than men to practice in lower-paid medical specialties (such as pediatrics) or in lower-paid institutional settings (such as health maintenance organizations)."
Even if this were so, which is not at all clear, and even if this were purely due to women's personal preferences, which again is not at all clear, this argument cannot be plausibly extended across 411 out of 422 occupations. Alas, experience shows that this does not stop the wage gap deniers from trying.
The GAO, in concluding their study, offers up some further speculative straws for the wage gap deniers to grasp:
Some experts believe that women and men generally have different life priorities—women choose to place higher priority on home and family, while men choose to place higher priority on career and earnings. These women may voluntarily give up potential for higher earnings to focus on home and family.
This non-expert, but very interested observer, finds that argument extremely unconvincing. In this country, women have a long history of being underpaid relative to men for the same work. Has it all suddenly ended in the last 20 years? Both anecdotal evidence and the hard data strongly suggest not.