Equal Pay Day ignores some statistical truths

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Equal Pay Day arrived for women this week. According to gender rights advocates, a woman must add to her 2017 income almost three and a half months of work in 2018 to make as much as a white man made in 2017. In other words, a woman in Connecticut only makes 79 percent of what a white man makes in income. Black and Latina women are even more disadvantaged. Black women make only 58 percent, and Latina women come in last at 47 percent. For some inexplicable reason black men don’t seem to be counted.

These familiar statistics were recently re-iterated in an opinion article that appeared in the Connecticut Mirror written by Ashika Brinkley, a board member of the Connecticut Women’s Educational and Legal Fund (CWEALF). Brinkley claimed that her statistics came from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and provided a link to the report. I checked it out and found this disclaimer:

Source Note: What a woman makes for every dollar a man makes is the ratio of women’s and men’s annual median earnings for full time, year-round workers. The “wage gap” is the additional money a woman would have to make for every dollar made by a man in order to have equal annual earnings. Overall figures calculated by NWLC are based on 2016 American Community Survey Data.

The term “annual median income” is very significant. It means that half the people in the group made more than that figure and that half made less. Statistically, median income only represents an average and not anyone’s actual earnings. Annual median income can therefore be skewed by high earners on one end, and low earners on the other.

Moreover, gender gap ratios do not actually compare salaries of full time employees working the same job. Such reports just use averages based on the salaries of men and women across companies, industries and job titles. How this information is gathered is a mystery to me. I suspect Census data or IRS compilations are used, but these figures often show great variation.

Interestingly, Brinkley’s opinion piece did not list even one incident of wage discrimination in Connecticut even though she is calling for legislative action. A few years ago a spokesperson for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities reported, “the number of women who complain about not getting as much as their male counterparts is small.”

I would venture to guess that there is little wage discrimination in Connecticut and that the disparities in income are largely based on choices that people make. All government employees, for example, work on gender-neutral pay scales. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, all get the same pay for the same work. Even high-income occupations are no longer the exclusive male bastions of the past.

The medical and financial professions have become increasingly open to women and will become more so since the majority of college graduates today are women. No modern corporation would dare to have differing wage scales for men and women. Of course, most engineering students are still men and over 90 percent of art history students are women.

If there is no wage discrimination, why is there an income gap between women and white men, and why is the gap for black and Latina women even greater? As mentioned above average median income figures can be skewed by very high earners on one end, and very low earners on the other. I was surprised to discover a while ago that the majority of women in well-to-do Westport are stay-at-home moms. I imagine that many of them do some kind of part-time work where their incomes will be only a fraction of their husband’s.

On the other hand, it is a sad fact that the low income of single, unwed mothers will statistically drag down average median income for women. A recent op-ed in the Wall Street  Journal by Wendy Wang cited statistics indicating that poverty is practically an inevitable result when women have children before they have jobs or marry. She claimed that the obvious success of Asian immigrants in this country is basically due to a traditional “success sequence” of education, work, marriage, and children in that order. In China, where she grew up, illegitimacy was unthinkable. Even in modern China, the out-of-wedlock birth rate is only 4 percent.

A few years ago a statistical survey came to the comical conclusion that it was better for a woman to live in Bridgeport where the gender gap was narrow, than in Darien or New Canaan where it was the widest. It used to be said that if you were not part of the solution, you were part of the problem. But if you don’t understand the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.

Francis P. DeStefano, Ph.D., of Fairfield, is a writer, lecturer, historian and retired financial planner.


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