“@SenWarren: In 99.6% of all job categories, men outearn women. That is not an accident—that’s discrimination.”
–tweet by Senate Democrats, April 14, 2015
A number of readers asked us about this tweet by Senate Democrats on “Equal Pay Day” — April 14, 2015 — which symbolizes how far a woman must work into the next year to make as much as a man. The tweet quotes a line by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), which turns out to be something she has said repeatedly.
The Fact Checker had recently examined the statistic that helps determines Equal Pay Day — that women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men — and found it lacking context. Does Warren’s stat hold up any better?
Warren spokewoman Lacey Rose said Warren got her statistic from a 2012 Bloomberg article, which no longer appears on the Bloomberg Web site. Rose had to provide a link from the Wayback Machine.
The article, which mostly focused on Wall Street pay, said that 2010 Census data showed that there was only one category (personal care and service workers) out of 265 major categories in which women earned more than men. That’s where Warren comes up with the “99.6 percent” statistic.
But the data is a bit out of date. Digging into 2013 Census’s American Community Survey — which we should note was released early in 2015 — we now find nine categories of jobs in which women make more than men. That’s a bit of improvement, though it is still shows about 97 percent of the (342) job categories give higher pay to men. But there is another wrinkle: There are more than 200 categories in which there is not enough data to draw a conclusion, so it’s not quite accurate for Warren to claim that this data set represents “all job categories.”
Moreover, Warren is relying on a data set that measures median annual wages. (This is the same data that results in the 78 cents stat.) Annual wage figures do not take into account the fact that women are more likely to take time off, such as for the birth of a child.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures weekly median wages (see Table 18). While there are limitations with the BLS data as well, one can find a number of categories in which the gender gap all but disappears when measured in weekly wages. For instance, female pharmacists are at 92.6 percent of male wages in the Census annual wage data but 99.6 percent in the BLS weekly wage data. And health practitioner support technicians are at 87.8 percent in the annual data and 103.7 percent in the weekly data, meaning they actually make more than men.
Still, it is clear that in most types of jobs, men appear to earn more than women. So what about Warren’s second point—that this is a result of discrimination?
This may fall more in the realm of opinion, which lies beyond The Fact Checker’s brief. Still, there is also evidence that discrimination may play an important role in the gender pay gap. The White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a report on the gender pay gap on April 14, in which it cited research that 49 percent of the pay gap could be explained by differences in educational attainment, experience, demographic characteristics, job type, or union status. But 41 percent of the gap is unexplained, and thus might be attributed to discrimination in areas such as hiring, pay, and advancement, the report said.
Still, that suggests that even if discrimination would be entirely eliminated, there would still be some sort of gap across many job categories. No discrimination against women would only get you halfway to the finish line of completely eliminating the gap — though that still would be an improvement.
In a statement, Warren’s office said: “Multiple analyses of Census data show that nearly 100% of job categories show men earning more than women. That points to a real discrimination problem in the workforce.”
The Pinocchio Test
Warren’s reframing of the gender gap highlights an important aspect of the debate— that across the vast majority of job categories, men earn more than women. Her statistic was a little out of date, and so the number was not quite as stark as she portrayed it. But perhaps it’s close enough for government work.
As for her suggestion that discrimination is the key cause of the gap, there is evidence that about half of the gap could be attributed to discrimination. But there are other factors at play as well. Eliminating discrimination still might leave men making more money in most job categories, so she cannot entirely attribute the problem to discrimination (though, as we noted, she could argue that this is simply an opinion).
Warren earns a Pinocchio.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form