Exclusives, Joshua Sharf, Media, Uncategorized

Sharf: Lazy journalism exaggerates the ‘wage gap’

On March 14, local Colorado media ran a number of stories on “Wage Gap Day,” the day after which men and women’s earning are allegedly the same for the year.  According to the publicized calculations, women earn 84% of what men earn, so the claim is that women are effectively working for free compared to men through March 13.

A little research by any of the reporters would have shown that not only is the wage gap calculation hotly and widely disputed, but that even on its own terms there has been considerable progress in the last decade.

The calculation that all the articles used simply uses the average earnings for all women and compares it to the average earnings for all men.  It doesn’t account for things like “profession, education, experience, hours, or working conditions,” according to research by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).

Denver 7 quotes Metropolitan State University of Denver economics professor Christina Huber as saying that when those factors are taken into account, the gap closes to 88%.  However, IWF notes that according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is virtually no wage gap for women 25 and under doing the same job as men.  By their calculations, when controlling for the factors listed above, the gap is 2%, not 12%.

These calculations are confirmed by data from HR software company Payscale, which finds that women earn 99 cents for ever dollar earned by men, when controlled for job title, education, experience, industry, job level, and hours worked.  Indeed, while the uncontrolled pay gap for the Denver Metropolitan Statistical Area is $0.86, they calculate the controlled pay gap at $0.98.

The controlled gap does differ by industry, with construction and extraction industries, as well as farming, fishing, and forestry showing gaps of $0.08 and $0.10 respectively.  This is almost certainly because of the physical danger in those industries.  Overall, men are over 11 times more likely to be killed on the job than women are, a ratio that has varied only a little for decades.

One article claims that the wage gap has barely budged in the last 20 years, but according to the IWF, in 2015 so-called “Equal Pay Day” was April 14, a full month later than this year.  Payscale shows a less dramatic improvement in the controlled gap, shrinking from $0.97 to $0.99 over the same time.

All of this information was available with a simple google search.

At least two stories go on to link this wage gap measure with real-life examples of wage discrimination, the implication being that such discrimination is widespread enough to account for the massive, but non-existent wage gap as reported.

In fact, wage discrimination on the basis of sex has been illegal since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, reinforced by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The fact that those women were apparently discriminated against is repugnant, but there is already a legal process in place to seek redress when discrimination can be proven.

Unmentioned was one reason that the pay gap has been all but eliminated: the majority of bachelors and associates degrees are awarded to women, and have been for decades.  Recently, women have also overtaken men in graduate degrees.  It’s not merely that more women go to college, it’s that a much higher percent of college women finish their degrees than do college men.

One understands the temptation to go with a simple storyline that has been repeated for years, but it is important to maintain journalistic skepticism, especially when a story seems to confirm what we think we already know.

Joshua Sharf is a senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Independence Institute and a frequent contributor to Complete Colorado.


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