Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In “Fairness is not equality” (Editorial, Monday) the author blames the differences between women’s and men’s pay on women’s choices and argues that research on the pay gap ignores “common sense” factors such as “occupation, experience, seniority, education and hours worked.”

In fact, in their report for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, Judy Goldberg Dey and Catherine Hill have taken these common-sense factors into account (See “Behind the Pay Gap” at

The AAUW researchers tried to explain away the pay gap using 26 variables, including occupation, experience, seniority, education and hours worked. When they took these factors into account, the pay gap shrank but was still substantial. One year after college, women earn just 80 percent as much as men, and 5 percent of this difference cannot be explained away. Ten years after college, this pay gap increases, so that women earn just 69 percent as much as men, and the proportion of this difference that cannot be explained increases to 12 percent. Unexplained differences in pay are attributed to discrimination.

It is true that traditional women’s careers, such as education, tend to pay less than traditional men’s careers, such as engineering. Rather than blaming women for becoming teachers, we should wonder why women’s work is valued less than men’s work. Without teachers, there would be no engineers.

However, even when men and women choose the same careers, the pay gap persists. One year out of college, women in business and management make just 81 percent of what men make. Ten years down the road, this difference increases so that women earn 69 percent of what men make.

The Dey-Hill study asks: “If a woman and a man make the same choices, will they receive the same pay?” The answer is no.


Associate professor

Iowa State University

Ames, Iowa

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