The gross gender gap in earnings between women and men working full-time increased in 2012, I read:
As the Obama administration puts increased focus on paycheck fairness this week, news that the gender pay gap has widened over the past 12 months hits us doubly hard. According to new numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 full-time employed women earned just 80.9% of the salaries their male counterparts did, down more than a full percentage point from 2011 when the number hovered over 82%.
To put the dip in perspective, this means the pay gap now is as wide as it has been since 2005, meaning six years of progress have arguably been decimated in one afternoon’s data release. But coming in the heels of the recent State of the Union Address, it just might be good news.
I'm not sure that it is good news, and I'm not sure why the gender gap increased after decreasing, and need to do more research on that. But what angered me about this piece was the quoted comment by Sabrina Schaeffer, one of the ladies from the Independent Women's Forum which is financed by wingnut guys:
Once again President Obama uses the State of the Union to try to mislead women about their prospects in the workforce and to try to expand government in ways that will make jobs even more scarce. The President uses a statistic that every honest analyst knows is misleading to attempt to convince women that our workplace is inherently sexist and that women are all victims. This isn’t good for women, and it’s certainly not appropriate for a serious policy debate.
Making the disparity appear the greatest, the White House uses a distorted snapshot to compare the earnings of the median full-time working man and woman, ignoring the many factors that we know influence how much someone earns.
Throughout life women and men make different life decisions about what college major to select, what line of work they desire, and how much they want to work, which drives differences in earnings—not discrimination.
Why my anger? Not because Schaeffer points out that the gross earnings gap between genders is not a good measure of discrimination. She is quite correct in that. The proper measure can be found after controlling for all those other factors she mentions (though it is often very hard to know what things are "choices" and what things are "constraints"), and that would be the net gender gap in earnings or the part of the gap that cannot be explained by women's choices or women's greater parenting duties or whatever.
But, and this is where my anger comes from: Once all those other things have been controlled for, properly designed studies still find an unexplained earnings difference between men and women who work full-time. And yes, that measure has taken into account whether men work more hours per week and differences in work experience and education and so on, and there are studies which look at only one occupational category which holds constant the possibility that women pick occupations which pay less than men, on average.
So saying that
Throughout life women and men make different life decisions about what college major to select, what line of work they desire, and how much they want to work, which drives differences in earnings—not discrimination.is the same as lying. Not even to mention the fact that the career I "choose" could be very much affected by hearing that there is a lot of harassment against women in it or that I will end up being the token woman in a roomful of men forevermore and so on. In other words, "discrimination" (which has been shown to exist in several studies) can work in forms other than direct face-to-face labor market discrimination.
What's odd about my anger is that it's not based on Schaeffer wanting nothing ever done that might benefit women (and their families) but that she misuses research to make an argument. Or implies that the conclusions are up to one's political views, not the large amounts of economic research actually done.
If you want to learn more about all this, read my three-part gender gap series on the website I link to at the top of this page. The study I look at there is a bit outdated but the principles of how economists do the stuff remain good.