A Close Look at Virginia’s Gender Wage Gap

by James A. Bacon

We repeatedly hear the claim that women earn only 77% as men, as if the difference were attributable entirely to workforce discrimination.  Annie Rorem at the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia believes that “there is reason to believe” that women earn less than men in the United States, but concedes “it takes a lot of careful work to meaningfully demonstrate it.”

Writing in the StatChat blog, Rorem walks readers through the perils of drawing superficial conclusions. One source of wage data by sex, the Quarterly Workforce Indicator Explorer, comes from the Census Bureau. Here’s what it shows for selected Virginia localities:

average_wages

Wow, it looks like a massive wage disparity! But beware. These numbers do not distinguish between full-time jobs or part-time jobs, says Rorem, and women are more likely than men to work part-time. Fewer hours worked undoubtedly accounts for some of the earnings discrepancy. To distinguish between full-time and part-time work, one must resort to the American Community Survey, which compares full-time earnings.

full-time

Hmmm…. the wage gap narrows considerably, except in Fairfax and Arlington counties. But there’s another problem, says Rorem. These wages are self-reported, which means they are not as reliable and precise as the first set of numbers. They come with a margin of error. So, she adjusts for the margin of error.

margin_of_error

That closes the gap even more. Indeed, in several localities, there is not enough data to state unequivocally that men out-earn women at all.

Perhaps more importantly, this analysis leaves out other critical variables: education, experience, age and industry. Rorem will delve into those factors in a future blog post.

A snide aside: I find it interesting that the wage gap, by this reckoning, is widest in the two localities — Fairfax County and Arlington County — that have the “bluest” electorates. Could it be that liberals, progressives and Democrats are closet misogynists who discriminate even more blatantly against women than conservatives do? Certainly that’s the conclusion we would draw if we parroted the simplistic-to-the-point-of-being-brain-dead factoid that women earn only 77% as much as men. Of course, no honest person would never make such a flawed comparison.

There may be workforce discrimination against women, I don’t know. From what I’ve seen of her analysis so far, I have far more faith in what Rorem has to say on the subject than anything coming out of the White House. I look forward to Part II of her analysis.

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25 responses to “A Close Look at Virginia’s Gender Wage Gap

  1. I’m not a fan of the kind of “analysis” that we see on the “wage gap” and for some of the reasons provided in this post.

    I think you’d have to normalize the gender data to – at least recognizes the differences of the employment characteristics between the genders.

    I’m surprise by the NoVa data and that leads me to wonder about the KINDS of employment – and here’s why.

    Federal govt jobs publish the wage scales and women doing the same work – as documented by the PD – position description, earn exactly the same wage.

    so if the Federal employment data were subtracted – what would the non-Federal employment data show?

    this is another one of those things I call a data swamp – because the data can – and often is – sliced and diced to suit the purposes of organizations that have agendas.

    data is cherry-picked, synthesized and even misunderstood – and misused …

    I think the real problem is in the TYPES of jobs that each gender does as I am not convinced that they mirror each other – and that, in turn leads to differences.

    I think we lack – honest and objective brokers of the data and we have too many folks with pre-decided views .. twisting the data to suit their own agendas – both sides.

    • “I think the real problem is in the TYPES of jobs that each gender does as I am not convinced that they mirror each other – ”

      That is certainly part of it, and while the first link I posted from the BLS displays gender gaps even within the same position, the second (should, I think, if it doesn’t I’ll find the study that does) shows the gender breakout for categories of college study and employment and men and women don’t enter into all fields equally.

      But that raises another question: we pretend we assign monetary value to careers in some rationale fashion, but do we? A plumber and a public school teacher make the same average salary in the US, even though you can enter into the former with no college (although an associates degree is not uncommon) while the latter requires at least a bachelors (although masters degrees are not uncommon). Do plumbers objectively contribute the same amount of good to society as teachers? Maybe, maybe not; the point is, a key difference between the two is gender coding: plumbing is a man’s job and and teaching is a woman’s, broadly speaking. So while we require more education out of our teachers (and pay plumbers while they undertake their apprenticeships), we pay them the same as their less educated counterparts.*

      That’s just one example, but gender coding is a real thing: skim through this list of top paying jobs for people with just an associates and keep a list of which are coded male and which female. Then all the jobs that are coded female, remove the ones that deal with saving people’s lives through medicine and see what you have left. http://www.businessinsider.com/top-paying-jobs-for-people-with-an-associates-degree-2014-12?op=1

      *This is not to denigrate plumbers. Personally, I think we underpay most people in this country who aren’t in finance or upper management. But the general expectation is, the more valuable a job is the more formal education it requires.

      • People aren’t paid by how much formal education the job requires. They are paid by the value that their work generates.

        Several of the richest people in the US (offhand, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg) are college dropouts.

        The pricing of an employee actually is an objective measure of its worth to someone purchasing their services.

        If you want to make more money than the profession you chose, move to a different profession. There’s nothing preventing women from being plumbers. If you prefer to work in a lower paid field, and you are willing to accept the lower salary, then objectively, the market has worked.

        • “People aren’t paid by how much formal education the job requires…”

          Wait, I know I already addressed this, where is it…right, it’s where I said general expectation.

          “The pricing of an employee actually is an objective measure of its worth to someone purchasing their services.”

          Nope.

          “There’s nothing preventing women from being plumbers.”

          Except, you know, ridiculous harassment and discrimination (http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/06/11/3447646/women-construction/), but once you get past that there are no roadblocks at all…

          “If you prefer to work in a lower paid field…”

          This assumes there are no barriers to working in higher paid fields, which is objectively not true for women and most people of color.

          “…and you are willing to accept the lower salary…”

          Or, you know, don’t have a choice because you have to take whatever work comes your way and face discriminatory hiring practices in other fields of employment.

          “… then objectively, the market has worked.”

          So if we ignore discrimination and harassment the market is objective and flawless!

          • virginiagal2

            “Wait, I know I already addressed this, where is it…right, it’s where I said general expectation.”

            General expectation by who? You personally? Because it sure isn’t the general expectation of most people I know.

            The general expectation of reasonably intelligent people is that your income will be based on what you do, not how many years you warmed a seat in a classroom.

            Yes, the pricing of an employee IS, by all definitions, an objective measure of the value of that person’s services to the person purchasing them. That is actually the actual definition of value – the value of a thing is the price the thing will bring.

            If a woman wants to become a plumber and start her own plumbing business, who exactly do you think is going to discriminate against her? Do you think she is going to discriminate against herself?

            There really are very few barriers to working in higher paid fields. There are some barriers for finance fields and some individual companies, but it is very much NOT the norm for the vast majority of higher paid jobs.

            The norm is people have pretty open choices – not people having to take whatever work comes their way – if they have actual, you know, skills.

            For people trained in higher value fields, there is very little discrimination, and what occurs is notable because it’s rare and not considered acceptable.

            And I say that as a woman with decades of experience in a higher value field, that has relatively low educational barriers to entry and that has a high percentage of male workers.

            I don’t see or hear discrimination and harassment in my daily work, and it’s not the norm over my career. That doesn’t mean it never occurs, but it sure isn’t the pervasive mess you appear to want to believe in.

  2. “There may be workforce discrimination against women, I don’t know.”

    Here are some numbers for full-time workers by job category that might help you make up your mind:
    http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat39.pdf

    “I have far more faith in what Rorem has to say on the subject than anything coming out of the White House.”

    Of course you do. She’s saying something closer to what you want to hear and confirming your biases. Have you engaged in the studies coming from the White House at all, or have you just heard the talking points, not liked them and decided to seek out contrary voices?

    • I don’t believe there is much workforce discrimination against women. The stats you link to don’t show discrimination. They show some difference in outcome, but not why the outcome is different. The why matters.

      • Yeah, you’re right. There’s probably an explanation for the gender pay gap across nearly all occupations for full time workers than discrimination. Whether or not it involves moving back from Copernicus to Ptolemy is another story altogether.

        • The gender pay gap, when you adjust for easily measurable choices, is around 7%, not 23%.

          Some of what remains is unconscious, and occasionally conscious, discrimination.

          And some of it actually are choices made by the workers involved.

          Sorry that doesn’t fit your narrative, but it is reality.

  3. “Perhaps more importantly, this analysis leaves out other critical variables: education, experience, age…”

    This should help you fill in the analytical gap of education and experience…

    http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/graduating-to-a-pay-gap-the-earnings-of-women-and-men-one-year-after-college-graduation.pdf

    • The link shows that, on average, men chose more lucrative majors, went into more lucrative fields, and worked more hours.

      Controlling for that, you have about a 7% gap that is likely explained by a combination of negotiating a higher salary, discrimination, and other factors such as personal choices.

      I don’t think there is zero discrimination against women, but I do not think the average is anywhere near the 23% often cited.

      To me, citing an unreasonably large number is counter-productive and causes push-back.

      • “The link shows that, on average, men chose more lucrative majors, went into more lucrative fields”

        Fascinating observation when what was being discussed was education and experience, but please provide us with more non sequitur.

        ” and worked more hours.”

        It didn’t display this at all. It showed that men were more likely to have one full time job and women were more likely to have multiple jobs. None of this says anything about hours worked. Moving on…

        “Controlling for that, you have about a 7% gap that is likely explained by a combination of negotiating a higher salary, discrimination, and other factors such as personal choices.”

        How are men able to negotiate that higher salary? Are they just better negotiators? Are they taught to be better negotiators? It’s almost like assertive behavior is more accepted from men than women (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749597812000416).

        And, of course, the ethereal “personal choices” used to explain everything from poverty to school performance to pay inequality. So light, so airy, so hard to pin down and actually study. And it has the benefit of putting all the onus on the people being affected by discrimination of whatever type instead of the people who hold positions of power.

        “I don’t think there is zero discrimination against women”

        Well, since that was Jim was asking about and what was being discussed it’s nice to know you agree with me.

        “but I do not think the average is anywhere near the 23% often cited.”

        You’re right, it’s worst for non-white women.

        “To me, citing an unreasonably large number is counter-productive and causes push-back.”

        Only from people who are invested in defending and perpetuating the status quo.

        • I don’t see how choosing more lucrative majors is a non-sequitur. I also do not see how, once they got those majors, choosing jobs that tend to pay more, as opposed to jobs that are interesting but less demanding, is a non-sequitur. In fact, those are the largest reasons for the pay gap, and they’re easily fixed.

          In fact, those are observations in the link you provided.

          The article also explicitly said that the men worked more hours. You are contradicting your own reference.

          I agree that men are perceived more positively when negotiating. They are also more willing to negotiate. It is a learned skill, women can and do learn it, and it’s rapidly getting more accepted. The only way to make it more accepted is for more women to actually do it.

          Personal choices is a real, and very large, component of how much money you make in the real world. It is not light or airy – it’s real, and if you are a woman and work in actual reasonably demanding jobs, you see it, and you choose, or do not choose, to make those choices. I’ve done both – leaned in and leaned out.

          I’m currently leaning in, but that is not always the choice I made, and leaning out does reduce your salary, and rightly so. I would be bitterly angry if someone, male or female, was leaning out and made the same amount of money I made leaning in. That’s not fair.

          You are trying to argue that your opinions have more weight than my actual lived experience, and sorry, I can’t buy that.

  4. I’m with LOTFL on his premise which is – there are different ways to look at the data – and it does matter if one is truly seeking basic data to see where it leads as opposed to looking for data that caters to one’s own biases.. to cherry pick and to exclude.

    I’m disappointed when we do that – and it sure seems to me to be more of it as of late here in BR.

    I really don’t have a dog in the gender wage issue – not that I don’t care but I am truly amazed at the ideological spectrum it has been drawn into.

    Is the gap true? of course it is.. the facts are indisputable and we have an obvious history of women bearing children and taking of the position of not being the primary breadwinner which means those in that circumstance are more likely to find a lower paying job more acceptable especially if it provides other benefits – like the flexibility to be away for family needs, etc.

    can it be fixed?

    well – we can do like the Feds do. They publish a GS wage scale and they are fairly scrupulous about equal opportunity – both gender and race. and they also tend to provide flexibility for absences for family purposes.

    can or should the private sector do that?

    I don’t know. Because anything that is not fixed by regulation – becomes another area of potential competition. And corporations that are tighter on work requirements, i.e. require 24/7 adherence to work needs, will tend to out compete ones that are more lax.

    • “…an obvious history of women bearing children and taking of the position of not being the primary breadwinner…”

      Which further puts women at a disadvantage to their male counterparts. In fact, men (except Black men) see an earnings increase of about 6% after they become fathers while women lose about 4% for every child they have (http://www.businessinsider.com/men-earn-more-money-after-having-a-kid-2014-9). We’re all equally wired to perpetuate the species and propagate our genes, but women are the ones who get knocked for it financially. Now, certainly there’s a specific nine months of work men are biologically incapable of performing, but after that it’s women who have to struggle with trying to “have it all” and balance work with child rearing while men don’t face the same expectations.

      • And of course – to me – the fact that without women to do that critical nine months worth of labor means there would be no consumer, producers or economy to speak of argues for the fact that we should pay women who are bearing children for the work they do, but that’s just me…

      • Okay, I have nothing to gain by touching this political third rail, but let me ask a question, Lifer. Given that data, how do you explain it? Do you think the HR departments around America have a secret raise protocol for new fathers, and an equally secret directive to cut pay for new mothers? Is it possible that young fathers seek more hours (OT) and young mothers seek fewer hours or avoid OT for the same reason – wanting to do best for their new family? Just a thought. I do not disagree that there are different cultural expectations for fathers and mothers, but would that qualify as discrimination? In my world, the cultural expectation for a young father is to be a good provider, among other expectations.

        Once upon a time there was quite open discrimination, different wage scales for men and women in the same jobs. That is now not only illegal, but if a company is still doing it and gets caught the settlement and legal bills will sting. So most companies look pretty hard at their practices and seek to be fair. To the extent that disparities still exist (and I’m sure they do), I don’t think gender discrimination is the explanation, at least not the discrimination you believe. One situation I’ve heard described, and I looked for it in the BLS data you linked, involves males in nursing – who I’m told make more for supply and demand reasons, as the supply of male nurses is lower than the demand. The same thing may happen in teaching. But there may not be the same market demand to draw women into traditional male jobs.

        Just some rambling thoughts.

        • “Is it possible that young fathers seek more hours (OT)…”

          The study found that working harder/more accounted for only 16% of the 6% increase.

          “…and young mothers seek fewer hours or avoid OT for the same reason – wanting to do best for their new family?”

          I can’t speak to the fewer hours, but this speaks to another socially ingrained bias against women’s earning potential: Taking it as truth that a man working more and spending more time away from his family is best for the family while the reverse is true for women.

          The study found – interestingly enough – that women in traditionally male management jobs saw a salary bump when they became parents, too, albeit smaller than their male counterparts. Maybe there’s something at play with the gender coding of the work.

          “In my world, the cultural expectation for a young father is to be a good provider…”

          Which may be why workplaces reward men for having kids (reinforcing the idea that the duty is for them to be good fathers by being good providers) and knock women (reinforcing the idea that a woman is doing something wrong by trying to work and have children).

          “One situation I’ve heard described, and I looked for it in the BLS data you linked, involves males in nursing – who I’m told make more for supply and demand reasons, as the supply of male nurses is lower than the demand.”

          Why would this be true? Who cares if the person performing your blood draw is a man or a woman? Who is demanding these male nurses?

          “The same thing may happen in teaching.”

          This does absolutely happen in teaching under the misguided notion that fatherless boys need male teachers to fill the gap of male role model. The other thing that happens is that many localities pay different rates for different types of teaching so that math and science teachers can make more than English or history teachers, which again displays a pay bias toward male coded fields of study.

          “But there may not be the same market demand to draw women into traditional male jobs.”

          Why not? Why is there demand for a man to take my cup of urine but not for a woman CEO to ask for a cup of coffee? What cultural biases are at play that lead to that sort of discriminatory demand?

          • Steve Haner

            The demand for male nurses and medical techs has everything to do with the need for physical strength to lift or turn today’s increasingly obese patients. Another topic, but a very real situation.

          • virginiagal2

            I don’t think people making somewhat traditional choices of the husband being more career focused, and the wife being more family focused, are fairly described as socially ingrained biases. People can choose traditional patterns – it’s their life – we have no right to demand that they make family choices to our personal preferences.

            Localities pay math and science teachers more because the market rate for their skills is higher. Math and science teachers can more easily find lucrative private sector jobs. You have to pay enough to keep them.

            There are significant efforts to encourage women to work in science and technical jobs, including significant efforts with young girls.

            BTW, an aside – it kind of creeps me out to call more professional or technical fields male coded. To me that reinforces outdated stereotypes that date back to the days when men and women had separate help wanted sections.

          • LifeOnTheFallLine

            “I don’t think people making somewhat traditional choices of the husband being more career focused, and the wife being more family focused, are fairly described as socially ingrained biases.”

            In what way is the husband being career focused and the wife being family focused are only “somewhat” traditional? And if they are traditional they are inherently confirming to socially ingrained biases since socially ingrained bias/expectation is the definition of traditional. Whether those decisions are conscious or not is ultimately irrelevant when what’s being discussed is the aggregate effect.

            “People can choose traditional patterns – it’s their life – we have no right to demand that they make family choices to our personal preferences.”

            Cool. If you can point out where I demanded anyone make any sort of family choice I’d really appreciate it. If you can’t I’d appreciate if you focus on the discussion at hand instead of inserting irrelevant strawmen.

            “There are significant efforts to encourage women to work in science and technical jobs, including significant efforts with young girls.”

            Yeah, it’s almost like people are trying to overcome pre-existing social biases, norms and gender coding. Thanks for providing more evidence for my point!

            “it kind of creeps me out to call more professional or technical fields male coded.”

            It kind of creeps me out that you’re an adult who can’t discuss existing social phenomena without being creeped out and that you can’t differentiate between describing a thing that’s happening and reinforcing/perpetuating that thing.

          • virginiagal2

            “Socially ingrained biases” is about as loaded a way to describe “wants to stay home with the kids a few years, and can afford to” as you can possibly come up with. Yuck. Hon, you may have missed this, but staying home with your kid lets you breast feed longer. That is not an option for the husband. And don’t kid yourself that breast feeding doesn’t factor into it.

            Loading up the discussion with all sorts of extremely judgmental sociological jargon does judge the choice being made, and it’s not helpful to women. There is definitely a strong social push to judge against women who stay home, and while I did not make that choice, I see the negative judgement of those who did, and I mind it. Not cool.

            Re CS, actually, per a fairly large number of studies, the main barrier to women working in tech is not pre-existing social biases in the sense of discrimination or the belief that they can’t do it. It’s been researched out the wazoo. The main barrier appears to be that young girls think coding is dull and nerdy, and they have other lucrative choices.

            People are trying to increase the percentage of women in CS because it’s a lucrative field that has a big impact on the world and it’s a mistake for women to close themselves off to it. I’d agree, and I’d agree that it is actually much more interesting than the way it’s taught. When presented and taught slightly differently, showing what you do instead of a dry recital of theory, a la Harvey Mudd’s approach, you get back to a more equal interest in the topic across genders.

            Not quite the same thing as biases, especially given that the difference is that girls who dismiss CS typically are focusing on challenging jobs that seem more interesting – not more traditional.

            And I’m sorry, but male coded is just a creepy term. 30 years ago, fine. Today? Sorry, you’re selling the last century.

  5. I actually like the last chart the most because it highlights something interesting (and pure speculation on my part, which I freely own and welcome proof of my wrongness):

    – Women in Fairfax and Arlington make considerably less than the men, but I would bet money the two groups are nearly equally well educated. The men, however, are probably in “high value” fields and government contractors while the women are likely either teachers/nurses, direct government workers or in the non-profit sector.

    – The wage gap in Lancaster, Caroline, Northampton and Bristol is almost non-existence, but here I would bet money the women are more educated than the men. The men are probably physical laborers while the women are probably some variation of nurse, teacher, government worker or administrative assistant.

    Again, just a guess and if someone has data to prove me wrong I will gladly be wrong.

  6. I think the above comment from Life on the Fall Line is probably correct.

    Women seem to be dominating men in school and taking lots of solid mid-range jobs, but men are still clustered at the poles – dominating the upper ranks of many professions while others fall far behind. In a place like NoVA, with lots of high-paying tech and government jobs, I would expect to find a lot more highly-paid males with wives who have put their careers on hold for family. In economically depressed areas, I would expect to find a lot more women working and holding down the fort. These two articles from the Economist are great on this subject:

    http://www.economist.com/news/international/21645759-boys-are-being-outclassed-girls-both-school-and-university-and-gap

    http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21649050-badly-educated-men-rich-countries-have-not-adapted-well-trade-technology-or-feminism

  7. more fuel for the fire:

    The Wage Gap Between Moms And Dads Is Even Worse Than The Overall Gender Pay Gap

    http://goo.gl/Pbktgl

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