Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Key Points to Understanding the Gender Pay Gap

Five Ways to Win an Argument About the Gender Pay Gap

The 80.5 percent wage ratio figure, the most commonly used figure to measure the gender wage gap in the United States, is often derided as misleading, a myth, or worst of all, a lie. In this post, we argue that the figure is an accurate measure of the inequality in earnings between women and men who work full-time, year-round in the labor market and reflects a number of different factors: discrimination in pay, recruitment, job assignment, and promotion; lower earnings in occupations mainly done by women; and  women’s disproportionate share of time spent on family care, including that they—rather than fathers—still tend to be the ones to take more time off work when families have children. Just because the explanation of the gender wage gap is multi-faceted does not make it a lie.


When a phenomenon, such as the wage gap, can be explained by various factors, it does not mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist.  In fact, those explanations are the exact factors to look at when identifying interventions to solve the problem. Take another phenomenon for example: poverty. Black and Hispanic populations in the United States have higher poverty rates than the white population. When analyses control for education, place of residence, type of job, and many other factors, the remaining differences in poverty rates are smaller but not gone. It is not a myth or a lie, then, to say that black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty. Indeed, they are.

Here are five key facts to remember about the gender wage gap:

1) Other data series on weekly or hourly earnings are not necessarily more accurate than the annual figure.

2) The annual wage ratio of 80 percent is actually a moderate estimate of gender pay inequality. Women of color fare much worse.

If part-time workers were included, the wage ratio would be 73 percent, a gap of 27 percent

3) Women’s ‘choices’ are not necessarily choices.

4) There is no proof that being a mother makes a woman less productive on the job.

5) Discrimination is still a factor—a big one—in the gender wage gap.

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