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How to Confront a Gender Pay Gap Denier—And Win

April 2, 2019, 10:30 AM UTC

Happy Equal Pay Day! It’s the day in the U.S. on which women mark the point where they have finally caught up to how much their male peers earned—last year.

It’s also the day the “Well, Actually” brigade comes out of the woodwork to spread misconceptions about what the gender pay gap is, and what causes it. Here are some counterarguments—including stats—to help you smack down gender pay gap myths, every time.

Myth: The gender pay gap doesn’t exist

Response: Incorrect. In 2017, the average woman working full-time in the U.S. made 80.5% of what her male counterpart made, according to the U.S. Census. That number is also not getting substantially smaller—while the gap narrowed through the 1980s and 1990s, since 2004, women’s wages in the U.S. relative to men’s have barely budged.

Myth: The gender pay gap doesn’t exist, because the number doesn’t compare “apples to apples”

Response: It is true that the ‘headline’ gender pay gap number is broad, containing women’s inequality across the American workforce, from women clustered in low-paid industries, to differences in race and age among women, to the burden of disproportionately doing the domestic work at home. But, “the notion that, because the numbers encapsulate a lot of things means it doesn’t show gender inequality,” is incorrect, says Emily Martin, VP for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Centre. “It’s exactly backwards.”

On top of that, 38% of the wage gap is still “unexplained” when you account for differences in age, experience, occupation and other factors. And there are “apples to apples” studies: a 2016 study showed that women teaching physicians at U.S. medical schools made on average $50,000 less than their male colleagues, even after controlling for a wide range of factors, from faculty rank to specialty to clinical trial participation.

Myth: Women bring the gap on themselves by choosing to go into lower-paying jobs

Response: While women are concentrated in lower-paying industries, there is evidence that in nearly every industry—regardless of the average pay—women make less than men. So female computer scientists make less than male computer scientists, female financial managers make less than male financial managers, and female nurses—well, they make less than male nurses, even in an industry that is overwhelmingly women.

There is even evidence that as women enter an industry, wages fall. Or the reverse: when men move into an industry, salaries rise. This was famously the case with computer science, which was dominated by women in its earliest years.

It’s worth pointing out that women of color get hit twice—by a gender pay gap, and a race pay gap: black women made 68% per week of what white, non-hispanic men made in 2017, while hispanic women made 62%. In every ethnic group, women make less than the men in that ethnic group. That means that Equal Pay Day isn’t on the same day for everyone.

So what’s this about women “choosing” to make less money?

“[If] women are having a harder time finding employment, then they move to lower and lower wage jobs until they find it,” says Chandra Childers, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. It’s hardly a choice.

Wouldn’t negotiating for better pay help? But women do ask for raises, they just don’t get them as often: women pushing for a higher salary are often viewed as aggressive and demanding, and get a raise only 15% of the time they ask. Men receive a raise 20% of the time.

Myth: The pay gap is due to women having children

Response: Motherhood does coincide with a drop in women’s wages, since moms take the time off to give birth and raise a child.

But there’s a pay discrepancy that can’t be attributed to mom’s reduced working hours. Mothers face discrimination from employers, that makes them six times less likely than childless women to be considered for a job; this is the so-called “Motherhood Penalty.” Meanwhile, fathers get a “Daddy Bonus,” with their wages actually rising when they have a child.

Does that make sense? Nope.

“Women don’t make children by themselves,” says Childers.

Plus, the gender pay gap is present before children enter the equation, although it’s smaller. Even before age 24, women working full-time earn less than their male counterparts.

Myth: The pay gap doesn’t have anything to do with men.

Response: Worldwide, paying women less—and even forcing them out of the workforce—has broad economic consequences, depriving economies of growth and governments of tax revenue. Globally, the loss due to women’s lower pay and workforce participation amounts to $160.2 trillion, according to the World Bank. In the U.S., if women were paid the same as men, women’s poverty rate would be cut in half, according to estimates by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. More money for women would equal more money for households, dads included.

But often, strategies to tackle the gap get treated as if men play no part.

“Policies have focused on allowing women to work and have a career. But this has its limits if men do not change their behavior in the workplace and at home,” says Monika Queisser, head of social policy at the OECD. “Gender equality is also a men’s issue.”