A number of readers have responded to the A&Q I wrote on the gender wage gap, including the following reader, who says the disparity is largely due to different career choices:
The often-quoted salary difference between men and women is based on the median numbers provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The word “median” means midpoint; 50 percent of people are above and 50 percent are below. It does not mean “average.” And there is a lot more to understanding salaries in the U.S. than meets the eye.
Pointing out that men and women are paid different salaries tells us that men and women are doing different jobs within the same job classification. For the most part, research has identified a relatively small difference in salaries when comparing large groups of male and female lawyers, accountants, or engineers with similar education and years of experience. Looking more carefully at the data, one will see that the so-called “pay gap” of 21 cents per $ is largely due to different career choices between men and women.
Is using salary averages really the right way to go about this?
While I concur that there’s more to evaluating salaries than just comparing the median salaries of men and women, statisticians use that measure for a reason: It is much more representative of what a typical American worker (male or female) in an industry makes than the average, precisely because it’s well-known that salary data is not evenly distributed, with a very long tail at the higher end.
But let’s say you compare the averages instead. What would you find?