For-Profit Wage Comparison Website Overturns Feminist Dogma. Or Not.
This morning, reader “Max” sent us the following note via the Skepchick Contact Form:
Women earn far less than men. On an aggregate basis this is true, but
Payscale controlled for a variety of factors and found that the pay
gap is far narrower among men and women who have similar levels of
experience, work in the same fields and locations, have the same
skills and certifications and are otherwise workplace clones. Among
non-managerial workers, Payscale found NO PAY GAP AT ALL, on an
apples-to-apples basis. At more senior levels, women do earn slightly
less than men, but the biggest gap [at executive level] was only 8.5%
— far lower than the frequently mentioned 23%. And that gap may exist
because top male executives put in more hours, travel more and spend
more time with clients than their female counterparts, which is hard
to measure among salaried employees.
Thanks for sending this in Max. You see, I’ve been under the impression that there was a large gender pay gap of around 23% between men and women in the US and that the causes of this gap were largely because of overt sexism in hiring and promotion decisions (especially at the executive levels), institutionalized sexism in the structure and benefits of organizations, and cultural sexism that makes it more difficult for women to enter and compete in higher salaried fields such as science, mathematics and engineering. But, I am a skeptic and as a skeptic I am willing to change my beliefs based on evidence. The study Max sent in must contain a lot of convincing evidence in order to overturn the vast number of other studies looking at the gender pay gap. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
The first link Max posted was to a Yahoo! Finance article entitled “3 Myths About Working Women.” The points Max mentions all seem to come from this article. The article begins by letting us know that all these myths about women being paid less than men come from this American Association of University Women (AAUW) paper that uses labor force data to argue that there is a significant pay gap between men and women in the US. They go on to inform us that the prevalence of these myths has led to some terrible outcomes including “heated debate over workplace policies, family priorities and the changing nature of motherhood (and compelled a lot of men to simply keep their mouths shut).”
Oh no! The poor men being all silenced by those evil University Women and their false study using data from the “Bureau of Labor Statistics.” That doesn’t even sound like a real organization. Luckily there is some hope because Yahoo! Finance assures us that this new research will set the record straight. Rather than read Yahoo!’s summary of the data, I clicked the link to the source study to see the data myself.
The paper entitled “Women at Work: PayScale Redefines the Gender Wage Gap” is published by what I can only assume is a well-respected scientific publication PayScale.com. The top of the first page gives the following quote by their lead (and only) economist Katie Bardaro:
Unequal pay for equal work? Not really. Women earn less than men on average because they often fill jobs with a large societal benefit, but small monetary benefit. Instead of focusing the debate on the misbegotten gender wage gap, we should instead examine why women are absent from high-paying jobs and industries, like technology, engineering and executive positions.
Katie’s paper sounds so interesting. I bet she’s got a whole bunch of data to back up those claims. Right below Katie’s quote is a short summery of the data with a chart showing the wages of men and women.
Wow. From that chart it sure looks like men are paid a lot more than women for the same level jobs, but the caption tells me that it only looks this way because I’m looking at the chart blind. Ok PayScale, go ahead and open my eyes.
Whoa! They totally moved that blue women’s wage line all the way up to the men’s line. Mind.Blown.
What is this? Some sort of dark data magic? Now that I’ve read the abstract, I’m ready to move onto the paper itself. I’m sure Katie does a good job at explaining exactly how they moved that lady line.
Hmmmm…This is a bit strange. Most of the links tend to go to pages asking me to give them money to tell me what my salary is supposed to be. I’m starting to think that maybe PayScale isn’t quite the academic journal I thought it was. In fact….wait a second. This can’t be. Those two charts and 3 sentences that I assumed were the abstract seem to be the entire main section of the article.
Underneath all the sections trying to convince me to give them money there is link to their methodology. I knew Katie wouldn’t let me down. I’m sure the methodology has all the information I’ll need to understand how they moved the lady line.
According to their Methodology, PayScale surveyed 13,500 U.S. working residents. Also …. Nope. That’s it. That’s the methodology.
You know, I’m starting to think PayScale is just messing with me or something, but I have faith that Max never would have sent us this paper if it didn’t have some pretty good evidence in there. After a couple more minutes of clicking around the website and avoiding giving them money I think I may have found another section of the paper containing far more data than the three sentences we saw earlier.
This new section breaks down the median pay between men and women in their survey for 12 very specific professions: Software Architect, Pharmacist, Civil Engineer, Secondary School Teacher, Executive Chef, Social Worker, Chief Executive, Registered Nurse, Doctor/Physician, HR Administrator, Accountant and Secretary.
In all but two of these fields, PayScale shows men making more than women even after controls for experience and education are factored in. Even stranger, in four of the 12 professions the women controlled median salary is actually lower than their actual salary, implying that the women’s salary was less than the men’s even though they had more education and experience than their male counterparts.
This all seems to imply that there is a pay gap and women are being paid less than men for the exact same jobs. Sure it’s not the 23% pay gap mentioned in the AAUW paper, but that’s because the AAUW is looking at the entire US labor force while PayScale is merely comparing 12 extremely specific jobs. Most of these jobs, such as teachers, nurses, accountants, and social workers tend to be the types of positions that are unionized or otherwise have very specific pay structures that would make gender gaps in these positions far more unlikely.
Also, PayScale surveyed only 13,500 individuals. I wrote to the author Katie Bardaro on Twitter to see if I could get a little bit more information about the people surveyed.
@UAJamie For the PayScale Gender Study our data set was 51% Female/49% Male; median age of 36; all jobs considered, but largely white collar
— Katie Bardaro (@Bardake) June 3, 2013
She informed me that the study had 51% women and 49% men and that all jobs were considered, not just the 12 mentioned. This is a little worrying because 13,500 is really not that many people in a survey. Then, it’s being split up and analyzed in 12 distinct categories of which many individuals in the 13,500 likely do not fall in any of those specific positions.
For example, what percentage of people surveyed are executive chefs? What percentage are civil engineers? PayScale doesn’t seem to offer up this information and Katie didn’t reply to my follow-up questions, so we’re just going to have to guess. Lets try some back-of-the-envelope calculations with secondary school teachers.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates there were about 3 million elementary and secondary school teachers in the US in 2011. But, this includes elementary school teachers. NCES also lists some older data showing that in 2008 about 40% of elementary and secondary school teachers taught secondary school. Assuming the proportion remains fairly constant since 2008, this would give us about 1.2 million secondary school teachers in the US.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are a total of 141 million people employed in the US labor force in 2011.
If one million of those are secondary school teachers, then secondary school teachers make up about 0.9% of the employed labor force. Since these are all estimates anyways, let just round that up to a generous 1%.
If PayScale’s survey got a good random cross section of the labor force, then 1% of the people surveyed are secondary school teachers. This would be a total of
350 135 individuals. PayScale does tell us that 56% of the secondary school teachers surveyed were women. That would give us 196 76 women and 154 59 men in PayScale’s survey that are secondary school teachers.
This seems to be quite a small study indeed and that is just for secondary school teachers, which are likely one of the more populous of the professions mentioned. I can only imagine that far less than 1% of the US employed labor force are executive chefs or pharmacists. Small groups like this are going to contain a lot of variation in salary. PayScale doesn’t give us any measure of variation so it’s impossible to put a range on the pay gap figures they mention.
For the secondary school teachers, PayScale found a 4% pay gap between men and women. Perhaps it is actually a 3-5% pay gap or a 2-6% pay gap or a -16% to 24% pay gap. PayScale just doesn’t give us enough information to know, though with the small number of people surveyed it is likely to be a large range.
A lot of the information in the Yahoo! Finance article that is mentioned by Max doesn’t seem to actually be in the PayScale study at all. Maybe there is a whole other page that I am missing but I swear I clicked around all over their website and didn’t see anything other than the main page, methodology and profession break-down. Either Yahoo! Finance has access to more data on the study than PayScale has released publicly or they are completely making up facts out of thing air and calling it journalism.
I can only conclude from all this that PayScale’s study, rather than being the game-changing new paper that Yahoo! Finance and Max make it out to be, is actually a concealed advertisement for compensation software put together by an extremely dodgy looking company in order to trick terrible “news” outlets into writing about it.