FAIL: Media Horribly Misrepresents New “Wage Gap” Study

We’ve all heard the long-discredited statistic that “for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns only 77 cents,” but have you learned that it’s actually even worse than that? That’s what a new study is claiming. Forget 77 cents, the true figure is closer to 49 cents says the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

It’s a shocking conclusion, and like clockwork, the mainstream media has had no problem uncritically adopting and reporting on the study’s findings.

Vox writer Anna North summarizes the IWPR study titled “Still a Man’s Labor Market” as follows:

  • Measures of the pay gap typically compare the wages of men and women working full time in a given year. However, women are more likely to drop out of full-time work to take care of children or other family members. To account for this, the report’s authors looked at women’s earnings across three 15-year periods, and compared those with men’s.
  • The study found that 77 percent of men worked every year in the last time period sampled (2001-2015), compared to only 57 percent of women.
  • For women, a year-gap in employment reduced earnings by $15,200. For men, the figure was $22,300. Vox mistakingly claims that women suffered a greater income penalty for taking off work, which is only true in other periods the study sampled (1968-1982 and 1983-1997).
  • In conclusion, the study found a pay gap nearly twice as big as what’s traditionally reported: averaged out over 15 years, women made just 49 cents for every dollar men made.

So in other words, the study is deliberately not comparing apples and apples. For decades now conservatives have been pointing out that the infamous “77 cents” statistic is only comparing male and female full-time workers, with no adjustments made for the type of jobs worked, or even that “full-time” men still work almost four hours more per week than “full-time” women (as “full-time” is defined as 30 hours or more per week by IRS guidelines). Like every other wage gap study out there with liberal conclusions, the IWPR study doesn’t compare the earnings of men and women in similar jobs, doesn’t adjust for differences in hours worked, and doesn’t even compare the earnings of men and women of similar ages (and thus at similar stages of their careers).

So this latest study suffers from all the usual problems – and then some more, as male workers (mostly working full time) are being compared to female workers who will have years they earn “$0” due to time spent away from the labor force, and suffer skill atrophy away from the workforce. Needless to say, regardless of one’s annual earnings, a single year earning “$0” will significantly drag down the average. 

The only new “revelation” from this study is that we see a larger wage gap when we compare male full-time workers to women who take time out of the labor force instead of comparing full-time male workers against full-time female workers. Let he who is completely unsurprised cast the first stone.

Reason Magazine’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown noticed that the IWPR study (and the media reporting on it) buried the lede, as the study hardly emphasizes that it found the earnings of men to be stagnating for over five decades, while women’s wages have soared. For women as a whole, wages rose nearly 100% from the first period studied (beginning in 1968) to the last period studied (ending in 2015). Men’s remained “almost flat.” None of the liberal publications quoting the “49 cents” statistic from the study took note of this, nor should we expect any explanation of how the supposed “patriarchy” allowed this to happen.

So what did the IWPR actually prove? That women who work less than men will earn less? No shocker there. Nor should it be, given that earlier in the year Vox’ Sarah Kliff published a great piece explaining that childbirth explains away nearly the entirety (80%) of the wage gap. I suppose there isn’t much intellectual consistency to be found over at Vox, is there?

To borrow a phrase from Al Gore’s playbook; on the issue of the wage gap, the science is settled.

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