Today is Equal Pay Day, so let’s break down the numbers for the gender pay gap. According to an up-to-date study by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, the current wage gap for annual earnings is 21 cents: On average, women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.
So that’s the headline number. But what are the causes of the gap in men’s and women’s earnings? Blau and Kahn break it down into seven buckets:
You can look at this two ways. The first is to say that the pay gap due to discrimination (the most likely cause of the “unexplained” part of the chart above) is about 10 cents per dollar, since roughly 11 cents is explained by other factors, such as experience in the job, occupation, industry, etc.
The second way—which is my take—is that it’s true that some of the gap goes away when you account for the fact that women tend to work in different jobs than men and take more time off to have children. But that’s all part of the story. When you look at the whole picture, women are punished financially in three different ways: because “women’s jobs” have historically paid less than jobs dominated by men; because women are expected to take time off when they have children, which reduces their seniority; and because even when they’re in the same job with the same amount of experience, they get paid less than men. All of these things are part of the pay gap. Whether you call all three of them “discrimination” is more a matter of taste than anything else.
But however you choose to approach it, the gender pay gap still exists. It’s at least 10 cents per dollar, and more like 21 cents if you accept that most of the mitigating factors are gender-based as well.