4 Gender Pay Gap Myths Debunked

by Rachel Withers

Image via Flickr

Just as International Women’s Day has slowly been encroached upon by International “What About The Men?” Day, today’s Equal Pay Day has been blighted by the annual “The Gender Pay Gap is a Myth!” Day.

Kirk equal pay day liesAlternatively known as “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” Day

Equal Pay Day marks the day on which women, taking into account the gender pay gap, finally earn the equivalent of what men earned the previous year. That is, after having worked an additional 94 days (although as Mathew Rodriquez at Mic pointed out this morning, Equal Pay Day won’t come for a few more months for women of color and working moms).

Today also marks the day on which wage gap deniers pick out arbitrary statistics and hold them up as evidence that the gender pay gap does not exist, or blame the pay gap on women themselves.

Data can be a tricky beast. Depending on how you slice it (by hourly rates, by full-time salaries, adjusting for industries), there are a number of different measures of today’s overall gender pay gap, from the oft-cited 77c per man’s dollar for full-time workers, to the Economic Policy Insitute’s 83c for every dollar of man’s hourly wage. But no matter which study you consult, all the reputable sources agree: there is one. The gap transcends countries and industries. And it’s far from being defeated.

For some reason— either a refusal to accept/address their own privilege, or genuine stupidity— people keep arguing, year after year, that the pay gap doesn’t exist. You only need to spend 5 minutes on Twitter today to see a kaleidoscope of their fallacious arguments.

Here then are four of the most common gender pay gap myths and how to refute them. 

Myth #1: Women CHOOSE to work in lower-paying jobs

Choice not gap

First things first. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, women are paid less than men within occupations, not just between occupations.

BUST choice EPI

We are paid less on average in both men- and women-dominated fields, and the gap is even worse for those working in high-paying fields like medicine, finance and law

Surely the mansplainers don’t believe that we are CHOOSING to get paid less than our fellow teachers, metal fabricators, doctors, and lawyers?

But even taking into account occupational gender segregation (which is real: women are still working the majority of jobs in the lower-paying industries), it’s wrong to say that this lower pay is ‘by choice.’

Evidence shows that when large numbers of women enter into a field, the pay for that industry drops. According to a brilliant article by Rhaina Cohen about the history of computer programming in The Atlantic, programming was originally a low-paying, women-dominated field; but as the industry developed into the male-dominated industry we know it as today, the pay and prestige increased. On the flip side, teaching underwent the reverse process. “Teaching also experienced a turnover in the gender of its staff, but the direction of the trend was reversed, with women replacing men as educators,” writes Cohen. “And when they did, the salaries and status of the profession dropped sharply.”

In other words, women are not choosing the lower-paying jobs. Society is designating the industries women work as the lower-paying ones.

But thanks for trying to pin it on us anyway, guys!


Myth #2: Women just aren’t as educated as men

BUST pay gap education

Wrong again.

Even a woman with higher educational qualifications than a man is likely to be paid less than him.

BUST women education gap

The other glaring error with this argument that we should just ‘get a good education’? We are. Women have outnumbered men on university campuses for a number of years now. Or if you want to look at it another way, a larger percentage of women graduating high school are enrolling in college than their male classmates.

We are, on the whole, more educated than men. But gender discrimination is still holding us back.


Myth #3: There is no gender pay gap because it’s illegal for women to be paid less than men

BUST equal pay act

Oh, our mistake! It must not be happening then, especially if the law says it can’t.

This claim (which is all over Twitter today) is oblivious to all the elements of the gender pay gap that transcend individual workplaces. It’s the most simplistic understanding of the gender pay gap: ‘My female co-worker gets paid the same as me so the gender pay gap doesn’t exist!’ But the gender pay gap is about more than two workers in the same company getting paid the same. 

Furthermore, the EPA is not exactly watertight, even within workplaces. The act doesn’t force companies to pay men and women the same automatically: it offers women the ability to sue if they don’t, and requires them to prove it was done on the basis of gender. And with Donald Trump just having rolled back Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, ending a mandate on paycheck transparency, we’ve now lost one of the key ways for women to know if they are being paid equally at all.


Myth #4: Women just don’t negotiate as well as men

BUST no wage gap negotiate

Gender pay grap truthers are big fans of gesturing vaguely to the fact that women don’t negotiate their salaries like men do. But studies show when women attempt to negotiate for higher salaries, they are often punished for their, uh, insolence.

According to the Harvard Business Review: “In repeated studies, the social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men. Men can certainly overplay their hand and alienate negotiating counterparts. However, in most published studies, the social cost of negotiating for pay is not significant for men, while it is significant for women.”

Jessica Valenti negotiating myth

Hillary Clinton is the perfect example of this phenomenon: Clinton is incredibly popular when on the job, incredibly unpopular when asking for one (check out ‘America loves women like Hillary Clinton—as long as they’re not asking for a promotion‘ by Sady Doyle for Quartz). The Harvard Business Review goes on to explain that women are aware of these increased social risks, which creates a serious disincentive to asking at all. It’s not that they aren’t as “good” at negotiating, it’s just that they are wary of backlash in a way men do not need to be. And intuitively, how could we not be, after years watching Clinton being slandered for daring to ask?

And because there are at least two counter-arguments to most of these stupid claims, let’s also refute the fact that women aren’t asking. A 2016 study showed that women do ask for raises as often as men (not to mention the fact that men are 25% more likely to get one when they do). 


So next time someone asks you to #DoTheMath when it comes to the pay gap, why not suggest that they #LearnToRead? There’s plenty out there to read up on (including a thorough reference point thanks to Economic Policy Institue). Don’t let anyone get away with mansplaining that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist, not until it actually doesn’t.

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