Susan Walsh, AP
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.

Conventional wisdom that says women earn less than men has been challenged by a new study that says that gaps appear later in careers and hinge largely on choices such as family and and types of jobs.

The notion of the gender pay gap was reinforced by a recent study from the National Partnership for Women and Families, which found that, on average, women working full time earn more than $11,000 a year less than men working full time.

But a new analysis of related data conducted by concludes that unequal pay for equal work is something of a misnomer.

"Women earn less than men on average because they often fill jobs with a large societal benefit, but small monetary benefit," concluded Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale. "Instead of focusing the debate on the misbegotten gender wage gap, we should instead examine why women are absent from high-paying jobs and industries, like technology, engineering and executive positions."

"There is a wage difference," wrote Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, summarizing the findings. "But it might not be the wage difference that you thought. The real gap isn't between men and women doing the same job. The real gap is between men and women doing different jobs and following different careers.

"But even if the gender gap disappears after controlling for experience and job selection, it's hard to imagine that men thoroughly dominating the highest-paying positions is a good outcome," Thompson wrote. "For example, the expectation that women more than men bear the responsibility to raise children gently nudges thousands of highly educated women out of full-time work."

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at