It's one of the things that gets repeated over and over again: Women earn 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. Sometimes it's reported as 81 cents, as in Senator Bernie Sander's recent tweet for #EqualPayDay:
Women are making 81% of what men make and for women of color it’s even less. That's nothing but sexism and discrimination. #EqualPayDay— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 4, 2017
But after reading about the pay gap, I've discovered over the years that it's completely false at worst, and misleading at best. The claim makes it appear that women are making 77 or 81 cents for every dollar a man makes for the exact same job. But that's by and large not the case. If it were, why wouldn't every employer fire all of their male employees and replace them with women who will be paid 20% less as a way to save on labor costs?
It turns out, the truth behind those numbers is more complicated than what we're often lead to believe. The 77 percent figure is created by comparing the amount earned by men and women regardless of their occupation. And since men tend to work in higher paying professions and women tend to work in lower paying professions the total amount of money men make tends to be higher than women. If women are over represented in lower paying occupations, they will earn less money than men on average.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 women were 13% more likely than men to be working part time for economic reasons, and nearly twice as likely than men to be working part time for noneconomics reasons. This means women often work part time because they want to, for a variety of reasons, like being able to spend more time with children, and choosing to do so will make it so that women earn less then men in a given year, or over a lifetime. Women sometimes exit the workforce entirely to care for children for a number of years, and this too cuts down the earnings of women to men over their lifetime. All of these are major factors in why women earn 77 or 81 percent of what men do.
This is not to say that there is no pay gap whatsoever, it simply means that the 77 cents on the dollar figure is not explained by the claim that women earn 77% men do for the same exact jobs. In fact, for unmarried childless women in their 20s, they are often earning more money than their male counterparts in large metro areas like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.
But say any of this to your average liberal, or your average feminist, and they will think you're a sexist—or even worse, a republican! That's because once this claim gets repeated enough and becomes your rallying cry, you will continue defending this in the face of contrary evidence due to the sunk cost bias. And this is very hard to shake off for most people. We all need to fact check our claims, especially the ones we're most committed to, as this is the best way to ensure that we're right. Our ideology shouldn't determine the facts, the facts should determine our ideology.