Is the gender pay gap a myth?

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 6:00 a.m. MDT

In this Jan. 22, 2009 file photo. Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. worker, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Congress sends the White House its first legislation in Barack Obama's presidency, a bill that allows women to sue retroactively for pay and other workplace discrimination that occurred years, even decades in the past. It has been a priority for women's groups seeking to narrow the wage gap between men and women. More than four decades after the 1964 Civil Right Act banned wage disparity based gender race, women still receive only about 78 cents for every dollar earned by me doing the same work. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Susan Walsh, AP

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In her March 14 interview with Diane Rehm of NPR, Sheryl Sandberg discussed, among other things, the gender pay gap. Women, Sandberg said, are earning 77 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. Sandberg's figures are based on widely-cited data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 Current Population Survey.

However, some critics suggest that the Census Bureau's method for measuring the gendered pay gap is problematic. "The data is clear that for the same work men and women are paid roughly the same. The media need to look beyond the claims of feminist organizations," said Marty Nemko, radio show host and best-selling author, in an interview with CBS.

Nemko cites four major reasons men earn more than women, none of which he says involve gender discrimination. First, men are more likely to choose dangerous jobs, and dangerous jobs pay more. Second, men are more likely to work in higher-paying occupations such as computers or engineering. Third, they are more likely to work longer hours. Fourth, even within the same career categories, men are more likely to pursue high-stress, high-paying specialities than their female counter parts.

Nemko isn't the only critic of the so-called gender pay gap. In a 2011 article for the Wall Street Journal Carrie Lukas wrote, "Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77 percent of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false."

"However assuming that women have themselves to blame for the wage gap is an easy conclusion, because it doesn't ask us to think (about) the treatment of women in the workplace," wrote Bryce Covert in an article for The Atlantic. Her review of available literature suggests that "women show just as much enthusiasm for getting ahead as their male peers. Choices aren't the only thing holding back women's earnings. Bias is happening, too, even if it's uncomfortable to call it out."

Email: mwhite@deseretnews.com

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