New Pay-scale Research Challenges Mainstream Explanation for Why Women Earn Less Than Men

Men and women employed in the same position actually earn roughly the same when starting their careers, according to a new study released Thursday. But as workers rise up the ladder, men’s wages begin to increasingly outpace their female counterparts.

The survey from the salary information website Payscale is at odds with much of the existing research on the gender wage gap. Yet the lead researcher, economist Katie Bardaro, called it a “misbegotten myth” that men working identical jobs with the same skills, education and background would get paid more than a woman.

Frustrated BusinesswomanMen and women employed in the same position actually earn roughly the same when starting their careers, according to a new study released Thursday. But as workers rise up the ladder, men’s wages begin to increasingly outpace their female counterparts.

“The gender wage gap does not exist in the way people believe it does,” Bardaro said. “However, it does persist for director and executive-level positions.”

The PayScale analysis, which is based on career profiles of over 40 million users, showed that women in various non-managerial jobs earn, on average, about 98 percent of what men do. However, once workers rise to the executive level, that share shrinks to about 91 percent, according to the study. The findings confirm earlier analyses of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census, which indicate that women are earning as little as 77-80% what men make overall.

PayScale included controlling factors like education, jobs and responsibilities between men and women. Yet the study contradicts other research studies showing that women who graduate from the same university with the same degree and enter the same jobs make less than male counterparts do.

Some have suggested that the discrepancy in PayScale’s findings compated to others may be due to the fact that its data is taken from people who choose to report their information to the site, as opposed to the Census and BLS, which have a broader reach.

Response to Labor Attorneys

Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, told labor attorneys that researchers can estimate the gender wage gap while controlling for variables that appear to make it smaller. But, she said, the reality is that much of the difference between the wages of men and women can’t be explained by objective factors like experience and education — demonstrating that discrimination is still preventing women from earning the same as their male colleagues.

Even models that control for variables like occupation and education aren’t necessarily free from subjective discrimination that can affect the difference in pay between male and female workers in the real world, Hartmann said.

“It’s clear the problem is still there,” she said, noting that if there was no workplace discrimination, women and men would be making the same amount across the board.

Still, the PayScale survey backs one theory that’s been floated before: Women could be earning less because they’re less likely to have high-level positions and tend to be clustered in lower-paying sectors. Just 4 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women. By contrast, women hold nearly two-thirds of low-wage jobs, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the recent economic downturn and recovery has actually made the gap worse. State and local governments facing tight budgets have eliminated jobs that were often held by women, while predominantly male-dominated sectors like construction enjoyed a rebound.

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Emery Reddy