Actress Patricia Arquette used her moment at this year’s Oscars to spotlight gender pay equity. Admirable. But what do the data say?
After her speech for best supporting actress for “Boyhood,” social media lit up with comments, including an often-repeated, but highly flawed statistic claiming women make 77 cents for each dollar a man makes.
That number comes from a Census Bureau report that compares annual wages, which can include bonuses and investment income, but can be unfair to workers like teachers who don’t get paid in the summer.
A better measure is median weekly earnings, which is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Their latest figures shows women overall making 81 percent of what men make.
But even that’s flawed because it doesn’t measure women doing the same work. Women often work fewer hours (35 hours is considered full-time here) and are more likely to be in lower-paying occupations.
Women’s wages grow to 91 percent if you compare genders based on educational attainment and experience, and working in the same occupation and industry, according to a study by economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn.
Two other economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, did a deeper analysis of MBA students. At graduation, males and females had only a tiny difference in salary, they found. But 10 to 15 years later, women’s earnings were 60 percent of men’s.
What happened in the interim? The women were more likely to have taken a break to care for children (especially if they had high-earning husbands), and when working, they were generally clocking fewer hours. The researchers said nearly all of the gap could be explained by these factors.
The women in the study who did not have children had earnings that were 88 percent of male earnings, and economists said that gap can be explained by the fact that the women were disproportionately working in smaller firms, often in the non-profit sector.
Arquette was basing her comments on personal experience, but outside of anecdotes in leaked Sony emails, getting that data isn’t easy, either. Forbes tried to put together a list of the top 10 highest-earning A-list Hollywood actors between 2013 and 2014. The result? All men.