(This is one of a series of posts on the wage gap.)
There are a literally unlimited number of ways one could go about measuring the pay gap between men and women. Here’s six ways, for example.
- Compare wages among young workers only, excluding mothers. (98%)
- Compare hourly wages among all workers.
- Compare weekly wages among all full-time workers. (76% – pdf file)
- Compare annual wages among all full-time, year round (FTYR) workers. (73% – pdf file)
- Compare total annual income (wages plus benefits, pension, perks and bonuses) among FTYR workers.
- Compare total income over the course of an entire work life.
I’ve arranged this list in order of how big the wage gap is. So if you measure by method number 1, you’ll find a relatively small wage gap – which is why conservatives so often use this method. Measuring with method number 2 will find a larger pay gap than method 1, number 3 will be larger still, and so on until method number 6 – which will find the largest pay gap of all.
The choice of where to measure is, to some degree, arbitrary; no one way of measuring is absolutely correct. Usually, when you see a pay gap figure in the newspaper, it’s measured by the third method I’ve listed – it’s comparing average weekly wages for full-time working women to average weekly wages for full-time working men. The reason most people use this figure is because that’s the way the U.S. government measures it, which means the figure is always conveniently available.
Each of these ways of measuring the pay gap includes and leaves out different things. For instance, if you just compare weekly wages among full-time workers (which is how the government does it), you leave out the value of benefits like medical insurance – but since men are more likely to be in jobs that pay benefits, not including benefits underestimates the size of the pay gap.
On the other hand, a conservative might reply, even among full-time workers men work more hours on average than women, so the weekly wage comparison overestimates the wage gap. (I’ll be responding to this argument later in this series).
The point is, no one way of measuring the wage gap is perfect, or can cover everything. The wage gap is useful as a broad indication of problems that exist in our economy, and as a way of examining how women’s relative pay has changed over time – but it’s not a precise measure.
More on the wage gap tomorrow.
(EDIT: In my first draft, I somehow wrote the same thing, slightly rephrased, for methods one and two. I went back and rewrote them to correct this error…)
No related posts.