December 11, 2013

How Pew Research measured the gender pay gap

Women earned 84 cents for every $1 made by men in 2012, according to a new report released today by the Pew Research Center.

How did we get to that number? In October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics  reported that women earned 81 cents to the dollar. The difference is not large, but what gives?FT_13.12.09_genderAndWork

One reason is that our study estimates the gender gap in hourly earnings while the government estimates the gap in weekly earnings. We chose to use hourly earnings, estimated as usual weekly earnings divided by usual hours worked in a week, because it irons out differences in earnings due to differences in hours worked.

For example, women are twice as likely as men—26% versus 13%—to work part-time.  Naturally, that has a significant impact on the relative earnings of women and men if one looks at weekly earnings. To account for the skew in hours worked, the government’s estimate of the gender pay gap is derived for full-time workers only, defined by the government as people who usually work at least 35 hours per week.

Restricting the estimate of the gender pay gap to full-time workers is not without limitations. For one, it leaves out a significant share of women and men when calculating the gender pay gap, namely those who work part-time. Moreover, just looking at full-time workers does not eliminate the difference in hours worked. Even in this group, men report working longer hours—26% of full-time men say they work more than 40 hours per week compared with 14% of women, according to government data.

The BLS, of course, is aware of these limits and it reports several other measures of the gender pay gap—for workers paid by the hour, for part-time workers, and for workers grouped by the number of hours worked in a week. According to their data, women who are paid an hourly rate earned 86% as much as men who are paid an hourly rate; women working part-time earn 104% as much as men working part-time; and, at the extreme, women who worked five to nine hours in a week earned 119% as much as men who worked the same number of hours. The reasons why women who work fewer hours earn more than men are complex, but a contributing factor is that women who work part-time are older than men who work part-time.

As it turns out, our estimates are similar to the government’s estimates, not only for the moment but over an extended time. The BLS reports that the weekly earnings of full-time women relative to weekly earnings of full-time men increased from 64% in 1980 to 81% in 2012. Our estimate, based on hourly earnings of women relative to men, shows an increase from 64% in 1980 to 84% in 2012. In the intervening years, the two estimates trend together very closely.

Which is the preferred basis for the gender pay gap—weekly earnings or hourly earnings?

The two measures offer different perspectives, and, like many other things, the choice is with the beholder. Those wishing to focus on specific segments of the labor market may prefer the several different estimates broken down by the BLS. Those wanting to focus on the overall figure for working women and men may prefer our more encompassing approach, which uses hourly earnings.

Regardless, the pay gap estimates show that women earn 16-to-19% less than men. What explains this gap in the earnings of women and men?

Some of it is due to differences in the types of jobs (occupations) women and men do and some of it is due to the effects of parenthood on women and men. Research also suggests that women may not negotiate for higher wages as aggressively as men or they may be more likely to trade off higher wages for other amenities, such as flexible work hours. Other pieces of the puzzle—attributes employers value but that are not captured in available data or the presence of discrimination—are more difficult to quantify.

Topics: Gender, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Rakesh Kochhar

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    I have no confidence in either methodology. Men make sacrifices of family time in order to support their families and typically do the more physical or dangerous jobs to earn more money you seldom see women in those jobs, so that is going to distort the data. Men’s careers usually have fewer interruptions resulting in greater seniority. So of course men are going to make more money per hour/ year/ career.

  2. Davis bush2 years ago

    unique fact often overlooked is clinical medical personnel are paid 70% of the wage that hospital workers receive. Doing the same work on the same patients sometimes in the same day. Education and experience level is also the same.

  3. Ben Karkis3 years ago

    This is worse PEW article ever written. Spreading the misinformation about the pay gap and then at the end saying – well, maybe it has something to do with career choice.

  4. Stu3 years ago


    Why is this article called How Pew Research measured the gender pay gap?
    It doesn’t tell you how they measured it, it just prattles on about various extraneous factors that they had to take into account.

    Where is the information?

    what is the mean difference in pay and how was it calculated?

    Due to the differences in job type preferences, how different job types are paid, personal choices in benefits alternative to pay etc is there expected to be a lasting difference in pay due to those choices?


  5. aloke chakravartty3 years ago

    It is a sad situation because those who are in power do not feel for it. All men have mothers so 100% population have same origin and they were sustained by only mothers those are Women. Yes, in most of the jobs where less physical efforts are required men and women are same. In India women are also working as labour plus looking after their family still get less paid. It is criminal to make such distinction. Worst is you will make effort but will not be able to create public opinion. Some are influenced by their religion or by so called social values. The society which makes such distinction in the long run dies as is happening in the west. Education can change all that. The governments will have to act even at the risk of losing election or governments. I read eminent personalities giving statistics wast of time we all know that just make an action plan. First bring them on equal terms then one will decide what will be the social structure. In India ,before Muslim invasion, there used to be a system. A women had a right to choose her husband and it was called “Sawembare” means self selection. Then India was developed and had so many great people but now we have people with lower capabilities,hence underdeveloped.
    Forget that even there is distinction of pay between Europeans and Indians in Middle East for men. We are still going by the colour of the skin knowing very well that all have originated from Africa.
    Aloke Chakravartty,MBA,Phd

  6. PhedUp3 years ago

    Can you explain why jobs done primarily by women are valued less than those done by men? The so called ‘caring professions’ are valuable to society aren’t they? So why should they be so poorly paid on average? It can’t all come down to physical risk since a lot of tech jobs done primarily by men aren’t particularly risky.

    The point I’m sidling up to is, don’t assume that the factors you think can be quantified aren’t affected by the factors you think can’t be.

    1. Jurij Fedorov3 years ago

      Caring jobs are typically better jobs than men jobs such as garbage man. Because the user actually sees you and thanks you. This is why more people want to work in these jobs. Supply and demand creates the wage gap between these 2 jobs.

      1. Jenna Rose3 years ago

        Those caring jobs require a higher degree and education. So no there are far less individuals who qualify for jobs like nurse, teacher, social worker than jobs such as garbage man.

        I don’t even know how you came up with that conclusion considering simple facts like, the percentage of people who go to college is far less than those who don’t. The percentage of people who get a degree in nursing or teaching is even less than that. So supply and demand doesn’t work. And trust me cleaning up raw human mess is not better than picking up bags with the help of heavy machines. Neither is interacting with sick or disturbed people. The job may be rewarding but I wouldn’t call it better or easier.

    2. Stu3 years ago

      It’s a fair enough point but i would guess the answer has to do with “caring” jobs being often less of a money driven industry and money driven industries are going to make more of it and as such will likely be paid more.

      There are other difficult to quantify factors that skew the numbers such as our neuro-biology.
      Women have much more white matter and a thicker corpus collosum allowing for more communication between the two hemispheres of the brain allowing for multi-tasking to be much easier and as such most multi-tasking jobs are filled by women.

      On the other hand men have more grey matter and a larger area in the brain for hand to eye coordination.
      This allows men to focus very well on one thing intensely and deeply which is why a high percentage of the worlds experts are men, single minded focus, its also the reason why men are better at calculation things like size, speed, trajectory hence why most racing car drivers are men disproportionate to the percentage of men and women that take an interest in cars and competitive driving.

      This is why it killed me to read this article, its all so difficult to calculate but they have done it… and they don’t tell you how they did.

      1. Afraid2 years ago

        You might want to consider that perhaps women are conditioned to not enter the world of “calculating things like size, speed, trajectory” and that men are conditioned not to enter the caregiving industry due to impenetrable gender roles. Perhaps the brain has adapted to social conditioning?

        Further, if women are biologically drawn to caregiving industries, then it must also be noted that these industries are not valued by society. What is it about male-dominated industries that are inherently more valuable?

        1. Logic2 years ago

          Men and women have different inclinations toward particular careers due to different interests. The primary reason for these differences are largely due to biological factors beyond “social conditioning.” The notion of social conditioning assumes that humans are blank slates which can readily be “engineered” by society. The problem with this concept is that there is no logical justification for a priori cause. If one asks a constructionist “in the absence of any gendered expectations, what ensues?” then one is forced to admit that there are inherent biological differences, deny it, or propose an alternative (free-choice paradigm). The alternative (social construction) is faced again with the burden of proof to the latter question. If social construction is true then biological differences due not exist since these two standpoints contradict each other (law of non-contradiction). Seeing how brains, hormone levels and a plethora of other factors differ between men and women (biological differences), it follows logically and necessarily that biological differences are the primary causes for men choosing STEM careers and women choosing relational careers. Social constructions cannot undue what is inherently (biologically), hard-wired into both sexes. Also, to suggest that conditioning can deviate choices, is to imply that people are not free agents (free will). Even if someone were conditioned to particular preferences, it would still be a matter of choice. The difference between biological differences is that people have an inclination toward certain things and they can choose or reject them freely. Social conditioning would imply the opposite; like a machine or robot, inputs would produce outputs which lie beyond individual conscientious choice.

          The characterization of “male-dominated industries” as being more socially valuable, is also drawn on faulty reasoning. While males due occupy the majority of these industries, that is not the reason they are valued more. This is simply a category mistake. Men do not give these jobs merit or value, these industries, in their own merit do. Engineering fields, for example are formidable and reputable in their own right. The same logic would imply that wherever males dominate an industry, then that is more valued (what if men did the social work? Would that fact alone ascribe more value simply because men occupy it?). I could write more, but instead I’ll simply recommend that logic and reasoning be your primary tools and not emotions.