NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 30, 2007

The National Committee on Pay Equity, along with a new report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation, say pay discrimination is "a serious problem for women in the work force."

On its face, the evidence in the AAUW study looks damning, but in reality, the causes for differences in pay aren't all that clear, says Steve Chapman, editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

For example:

  • Women with college degrees tend to go into fields like education, psychology and the humanities, which typically pay less than the sectors preferred by men, such as engineering, math and business.
  • As they get older, many women elect to work less so they can spend time with their children; a decade after graduation, 39 percent of women are out of the work force or working part time -- compared with only 3 percent of men.
  • In addition, men and women often do different things that may affect earnings -- a year out of college, notes AAUW; women in full-time jobs work an average of 42 hours a week, compared to 45 for men; men are also far more likely to work more than 50 hours a week.

Buried in the report is a startling admission: "After accounting for all factors known to affect wages, about one-quarter of the gap remains unexplained and may be attributed to discrimination," says Chapman.  Another way to put it is that three-quarters of the gap clearly has innocent causes -- and that we actually don't know whether discrimination accounts for the rest.

Source: Steve Chapman, "The Truth About the Pay Gap,", April 29, 2007; "Behind the Pay Gap," American Association of University Women, April 23, 2007.

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