NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Wage Gap Myth

April 12, 2002

Differences in average pay for women and men are apparently due to the life and work choices they make, say analysts. Many organizations are protesting wage discrimination on Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -- Equal Pay Day -- but the reality is that when women behave in the workplace as men do, the wage gap is small.

  • The median income for all women is about three-quarters of men's, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • But June O'Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that among people ages 27 to 33 who have never had a child, women's earnings approach 98 percent of men's.
  • Women who hold positions and have skills and experience similar to men's face wage disparities of less than 10 percent, and many are within a couple of points.

However, women are more likely to enter and leave the workforce to raise children, take care of elderly parents or move with their families. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey reveal that women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been out of the labor force 27 percent of the time, in contrast to 11 percent for men.

Women's wages hold up quite well to men's wages when comparing specific job categories (see figure I):

  • Among adults working between one and 34 hours a week, women's earnings are 115 percent of men's.
  • Among part-time workers who have never married, women earn slightly more than men.

Thus skill level, tenure and working hours -- not gender --determine wages.

Despite these and other factors, over the last 20 years women's earnings have jumped at least 12 percentage points relative to men's earnings.

Source: Denise Venable, "The Wage Gap Myth," NCPA Brief Analysis No. 392, April 12, 2002, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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