When debating issues of gender-equality, one commonly cited problem is the wage-gap. When you take the average income of women, and divide that over the average income of men, you will see that women earn roughly 77% of what men earn…a wage gap of about 23%. Feminists tend to claim this is a result of sex-discrimination…which is typically rebutted by pointing to life-choices. Men tend to choose higher-paying fields, longer hours, etc. In response to this (the “human capital” argument), some researchers have started controlling for certain life-choices (e.g. degree, field, etc.). Many of the discrimination-advocates purport to account for the disparity in hours worked by controlling for what is called “full-time, year-round workers”. The researchers themselves don’t explicitly state they are controlling for hours…because that would be a lie, but that doesn’t stop them from insinuating as much. Certain third-parties, however, do explicitly make such false claims.
Here’s what the American Association of University Women had to say in their recent white-paper entitled “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap” (emphasis mine)1:
Yet not all of the gap could be “explained away.” After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children, a 5 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained.
It sounds disheartening, right? I mean, if you listen to the AAUW, it would seem that women are getting paid less for the same work. However, if you continue reading the white-paper, you’ll find “hours” are not mentioned anywhere else. What does pop up — quite frequently — is that misleading term “full-time, year-round worker” (again, emphasis mine):
Women’s Annual earnings as a percentage of men’s Annual earnings for Full-time, Year-round Workers, 1970–20101
The pay gap is the difference in men’s and women’s typical earnings, usually reported as either the earnings ratio between men and women or as an actual pay gap, as defined below. The median value is the middle value, with equal numbers of full-time workers earning more and earning less; it is used to prevent especially high salaries from skewing the results.
State median Annual earnings and earnings ratio for Full-time,Year-round Workers, Ages 16 and older, by State and Gender, 20106
A similar analysis of full-time workers 10 years after college graduation found a 12 percent unexplained difference in earnings.
Weekly median earnings of Full-time Workers, by race/ethnicity and Gender, 2011
The gender pay gap is smallest among the youngest workers. In 2010, for full-time workers ages 16–19, women earned 95 percent of what men earned on a weekly basis.
“Full-time workers” and “year-round workers” as defined in these studies appear to originate from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From the Census Factfinder2:
Full-time, year-round workers in the past 12 months
All people 16 years old and over who usually worked 35 hours or more per week for 50 to 52 weeks in the past 12 months
In case you were suspecting that, perhaps, “full-time worker” meant something different, here’s the definition of that, by itself, from the BLS Glossary3:
Full-time workers (Current Population Survey and American Time Use Survey)
Persons who work 35 hours or more per week.
I do also recall seeing an expanded definition of “year-round worker” from, I believe, the BLS, which explained that educators working less than 50 weeks a year (I believe it was 30+ weeks) were also counted as “full-time”, but I can’t find that so we’ll put that aside for now.
Anyway,I’m sure you can see the problem with this, but for those that can’t, let’s do a little math. Say you had two workers: John and Paul. John worked 50 weeks a year, 35 hours a week, at a rate of $10 per hour. Paul put in for as much overtime as he could and worked 52 weeks a year, 60 hours a week, but also at a rate of $10 per hour. Both are earning the same hourly rate and — for the sake of argument — doing the same work while on the clock…yet John will only earn $17,500 a year, while Paul will earn $31,200 (and this isn’t even factoring in mandatory overtime pay, raises for being more committed, etc.). John would have earned only 56% of what Paul earned…there would be a wage-gap of 44%, yet there’s no discrimination here.
So what sort of hours do men and women really work? Well Statcrunch.com took a look at that, and here’s what they found (emphasis mine)4:
Average hours for men were 41.3 per week, whereas women worked 35.6 hours per week on average. Male hours were in one dimension more variable, with a standard deviation of 12.5 hours, as opposed to women having 10.5 hours. However, that is mostly explained by the thicker tails of the male distribution. The male interquartile range is only 5, ranging from 40 to 45, whereas female hours in the center of the distribution were more variable, ranging by 9 hours from 31 to 40.
So let’s try some more math, shall we? John and Jane both earn $10 per hour and work 50 weeks in a year. John works 41.3 hours per week, and Jane works 35.6 hours. We see that, in a year, John will have earned $20,650 and Jane will have earned $17,800. In this scenario, Jane has earned only 86.1% of what John earned…a wage gap of 13.9%.
So remember kids: when someone claims to have controlled for “hours worked” in their study of the wage gap, check to make sure they’re not dismissing that factor with the “full-time, year-round workers” error.
1 – American Association of University Women, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap” AAUW.org. 2012 <http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/simpletruthaboutpaygap1.pdf>
2 – United States Government, “American Factfinder”, editors unknown, publish date unknown. N/A. April 12, 2012 <http://factfinder2.census.gov/help/en/glossary/f/full_time_year_round_workers_in_the_past_12_months.htm>
3 – United States Government, “BLS Glossary”, editors unknown, February 28, 2008. N/A. April 12, 2012 <http://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm>
4 – dschwal07, “Hours Worked by Sex, April 2009”, dschwal07, July 07, 2009. N/A. April 12, 2012 <http://www.statcrunch.com/5.0/viewreport.php?reportid=7996>