You’ve seen the women’s protests, you’ve been told how men unfairly discriminate against women and you’ve definitely heard something about women making “77 cents to men’s dollar,” even though you’re still not really sure what that means.
Determining the truth behind the gap is a nuanced issue, so let’s unpack some of the statistics and terminology surrounding the pay gap between men and women, and investigate whether such a gap exists at Purdue.
The original “77 cents to the dollar” figure came from the 2010 Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States report, prepared by the federal government. According to the document, the “female-to-male earnings ratio” was about 77-to-100 in 2010.
Now, what that number doesn’t convey is the sample size of the report — that statistic is technically just the “median earnings of total workers and full-time, year-round workers.” The number doesn’t account for differences between job requirements, employees’ skills, career differences, number of vacation days taken or any of the dozens of ways any individual employee differs from another.
This gap is classified as an “organization-wide” gender pay gap by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, an Australian government agency, which basically means that a gap exists across an entire company, group or otherwise diversely populated number of people, not taking into account the differences between individual careers.
As each person’s career and job specifications are not taken into account, the gap appears much wider than it actually is.
This can be explained by the fact that many low-paying jobs are populated by women, where the opposite is true for men. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency, about “76 percent of public school teachers were female,” whereas “64.4 percent of physicians and surgeons are male,” as reported by Data USA, a data collection service. As women take jobs that pay less, naturally they on average make less money than men due to the differences in careers.
Further, there tend to be fewer women than men in high-paying administrative roles. That may be due to any number of factors, voluntary or not, but the statistics don’t lie. Out of the top 10 highest-paid employees at Purdue, only one is a woman, Sharon Versyp, the women’s head basketball coach.
To combat this, another kind of gender gap, classified as “like-for-like,” makes the more logical claim that there remains a gap between individuals in comparable jobs, not just across the board.
There’s considerably less data to help investigate this type of gap, as instead of having the demographics of an entire country’s employees, one must compare the median salaries between individuals with the same job.
Before the argument continues, a statistical sidebar: It should be noted that the median salary, not the average, is the best way to compare salaries against one another. This is true because salary distributions can become heavily skewed by a few outliers — if Bill Gates walked into a small classroom of students, the “average” person in the room would be a millionaire due to how one outlier drastically alters the data.
When comparing median salaries to find the actual pay gap between genders, it is even more important to take note of the nuanced differences between individuals. What kind of degree a person earned, how many years of experience an employee has, inherent biases of employers, how long a certain worker has been at a particular company and many more details can cause differences in salaries. One might expect starting salaries from the same company for the same position to be near-identical, but even those can differ as candidates negotiate salaries for different amounts, making like-for-like comparisons extremely hard to do.
While all employees are included in the salary guide, it’s nigh on impossible to separate the list into male and female workers, as Purdue paid over 16,000 people in 2017. To determine the proportion of male-to-female earnings would take a ridiculous amount of time. Further, it would be even more difficult to find out which people were paid for their salary and which were reimbursed for reasons other than employment.
One rather work-around way of analyzing the data would be to research the most common baby names of 1975, a year that many employees were probably born in, search the top three names of each gender in the salary guide, take the median salary of each name and compare. This method, however, doesn’t return any meaningful data, as using the most popular baby names in 1975 ignores a lot of important details, and no sample size less than 10 could possibly encompass enough data to produce a statistically significant trend.
Ultimately, those who argue about the gender gap face a defining choice that they must answer before trying to convince anyone else of their stance.
If one wants equal pay for equal work, the most common desire for the critics of the pay gap, then examining the like-for-like differences is vital. In this case the demographics of any certain career field must be ignored to focus on the individual and how they stack up to others of the opposite gender with nearly identical backgrounds, experiences and negotiating strategies.
On the other hand, if one wants the organizational gap to shrink, then they must work to get women in higher-paying jobs, especially in administrative roles. These people must look past the individual and concentrate on the overall demographic of any specific area to discover why women don’t take jobs or are passed over when it comes to hiring for higher-paid managerial positions.
Whichever choice one makes, it’s important to consider that the gender gap is much more than simply 77 cents on the dollar and actually involves impossibly large data sets that must be analyzed to provide a true understanding of a gap that may or may not exist.