Do women earn 80 cents on the dollar compared with men, as is commonly cited? Or is the pay gap just pennies, as one recent survey found? Or do women earn a shocking 49 cents on the dollar, as calculated by the social scientists Stephen Rose and Heidi Hartmann in a new analysis published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research?
The answer is all of the above. Each number highlights a different aspect of a complicated and nuanced situation—one reflecting not only sexism and bias but the choices made more or less freely by millions of women in hundreds of thousands of workplaces. Rose and Hartmann’s number is lowest because it is in some ways most holistic.
“Much ink has been spilled debating whether the commonly cited measure of the wage gap—that women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man—is an exaggeration due to occupational differences or so-called women’s choices,” said Hartmann, who is the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in releasing the report. “We have actually been underestimating the extent of pay inequality in the labor market.”
The most common way to measure the gender earnings gap is to look at how much women working full-time and year-round make, and compare it with what men working full-time and year-round make. The most recent numbers from the Census Bureau put this gap at roughly 20 cents on the dollar, a number publicized on Equal Pay Day and cited over and over and over again in the media.