Rachel Maddow Is Wrong About The Wage Gap

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow shut down a Republican strategist on Meet the Press yesterday who questioned her repetition of the famous statistic about the wage gap: “Women in this country still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make.” Republican Alex Castellanos challenged Maddow on the point, saying “actually, if you start looking at the numbers, Rachel, there are lots of reasons for that.” Maddow said she didn’t want to hear about the reasons, and her fans online leapt to her defense. But even if they don’t want to hear it, Castellanos is (mostly) right.

“Don’t tell me the reasons,” Maddow responded when Castellanos challenged her. “Do women make less than men for doing the same work?”

“Men work an average of 44 hours a week, women work 41 hours a week,” Castellanos said. “Men go into professions like engineering, science and math that earn more. Women want more flexibility.”

Castellanos interrupts Maddow while she tries to make her point. He’s a man butting in while a woman tries to discuss a women’s issue. He condescendingly tells her, “I love how passionate you are.” (Ugh.) In other words, he acts like a total jerk. Predictably, Jezebel crowed that Castellanos was “obfuscating” and calls him “full of shit.” Mediaite praised Maddow for “smack[ing] down” Castellanos. But despite Maddow and friends’s shock and horror, and Castellanos’s very real rudeness, the facts are on his side

Maddow says “the reasons” aren’t important. But Castellanos’s point about the number of hours worked per week, and the desire for flexibility, is crucial. (Most measurements of the wage gap compare workers within the same profession, so while Castellanos is right to point out that men tend to go into higher-paying fields, that’s really a separate conversation. An important one, but not relevant here.) Stats about the wage gap compare full-time workers to other full-time workers, but all “full-time” means is more than 35 hours a week. Wouldn’t you expect someone putting in 50 hours a week to earn more than someone putting in 36 hours, whether they’re paid by the hour or on salary?

As Kay Hymowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week, men work considerably more hours than women, no matter how we arrange flex time and social policy to help accommodate women:

According to the department, almost 55% of workers logging more than 35 hours a week are men. In 2007, 25% of men working full-time jobs had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 14% of female full-time workers. In other words, the famous gender-wage gap is to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap.

This is particularly true after women have children. In many cities, single childless women in their 20s actually out-earn their male peers by 8%. But when women have children, they cut back on their hours — sometimes temporarily, sometimes for longer. (One study of MBA graduates from the University of Chicago’s Booth School found that 10 years after graduation, only half of women with children were working full-time, compared with 95% of male graduates with children.) Either way, it makes a real difference. Other research has found that women who step away from the workforce for three years return to work at just 60% of their previous earning capacity.

Flex time, paid leave, and other family-friendly policies do a lot to help women and men navigate the tricky years of early parenthood. But as Hymowitz points out, countries like Sweden and Iceland have extremely generous and egalitarian leave policies, plus publicly funded child care. But the wage gap persists — 38% in Iceland, 15% in Sweden — and women consistently take more time off than men.

That’s not to say there’s no wage gap in America at all, or that discrimination doesn’t exist. But we can’t blame that hoary old 77-cents-to-the-dollar figure on evil Republican policies or on cruel business owners — or at least not nearly the majority of it.

When the American Association of University Women — a progressive organization active on the wage-gap issue — looked at the issue in 2007 [PDF], they controlled for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours, work experience, education, GPA, age, race/ethnicity, religion, marital status, and number of children. They found a 5% gap between male and female wages a year out of college, and a 12% gap a decade out, when many women have had children.

Those unexplained gaps are important. But they’re not anything close to 23%. Rachel Maddow may not want to hear about the reasons, but they’re a crucial part of the story.


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    • Avodah

      I appreciate someone on this blog taking the time to bring up this important issue. We hear a lot about the so-called “wage gap”, but there is more to the story.

      Women often go into lower-paying professions and work fewer hours per week.

      We cannot demand equal pay if there isn’t equal work. Sorry kids.

      • Cheryl

        You’re comparing apples to oranges. Even men will earn less for the same work IF they work less hours. If you look at the hourly wage or the salary for a salaried position, women make a lot less money for the same job and the same performance. I’ve worked in the corporate world for 25 yrs., with access to salary information. I know that I made less money than men in the same position as did other women who worked there. My choices? Complain (career ender), sue the company (job loss and career ender or carry on\ (continue to pay my children’s college tuition).

        Believe me, it was no secret. It was openly discussed at meetings to divy up the pay raise pot. My favorite? He has a family to support so let’s give him a bigger raise. Like women don’t have families to support.

    • Laura

      I think the important issue that often gets overlooked is why women are working fewer hours and need more flexibility, and it is because even when women are successful in their careers they are still carrying the bulk of housework and childcare. Obviously there are exceptions to this in individual families, but addressing the overarching reasons women need flexibility is essential to addressing income and wages disparities within industries.

    • Tyler

      Maddow was correct. Check the labor bureau, GSO, and every other labor statistic organization, men make more than women for the same job.

      This article is very misleading. Bloomberg also came to the same conclusion that men make more than women for the same job, after reviewing all of the statistics.

      Bloomberg found that out of 265 specific fields men make more than women in 264/265. The one where women did better was house sitting/house keeper and that difference was a mere 2 cents.

      Even if you compare the same hours and even if you take into account part time work, men STILL make much more for the same work.

      No matter how you spin it, females are discriminated against for no reason other than they are females.

      CNN also fact checked this issue today and found it was correct. Even the well renown non profit women’s organization for prosperity has found the same conclusions. In fact, they are the experts on this issue and have been at the forefront of this issue for years.

      It is pretty ignorant and quite Orwellian to try and say with a straight face that women earn equal pay as men for the same job, given all of the research and statistics.

      But apparently if you are a female and to like being discriminated against for doing the same job then just keep voting Republican. I also suggest shooting yourself in the foot.

      • Ruth Graham

        Hi, Tyler. Thanks for reading. Did you also read the last three paragraphs?

      • LCT

        @Ruth Graham:

        Zing! Nice.

    • Avodah

      My advice to women is to enter more lucrative professions, negotiate salaries and work harder and longer.

      I applaud the efforts of those who work to end discrimination. However, companies cannot be expected to accommodate everyone. If they do, then they don’t make money.

    • Willamena

      It’s in your title. If Maddow is wrong, then the 2010 U.S. Census is wrong. It’s as if they’re debating economics and Castellanos says the sky is blue. Then you agree, the sky IS blue so Maddow must be wrong. The census does not reflect people that work less hours not getting paid as much as people that work more. The statistic isn’t about pregnancies or flex time. Those are completely different statistics. It’s an average of people with the SAME experience, education, job title, duties and hours. Now if you don’t believe the Census Beareau, that too is another matter altogether. And you say we can’t blame Republicans, when they are voting AGAINST equal pay acts. Why? If you think we already get paid the same, what would it hurt to pass the law? They’ve passed all kinds of rediculous, redundant laws like banning abortion where it’s already banned, banning sharia law, reconfiming our motto, so why not support equal pay? Did you READ the AAUW link you put up? It contradicts everything you’re saying. It’s also from 2012, not 2007.

      • Ruth Graham

        Not sure if you’re still following this comment thread, so I’ll keep this short. Just wanted to point you to this smart, fair-minded overview of this issue that the public radio program “Here & Now” aired yesterday. They talk to an economist who makes clear the “true” wage gap, with all appropriate controls (education, hours worked, etc.), is about 5 percent. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s not real or serious. But this issue is a lot more complicated than the 77-cent discrimination-conspiracy folks sometimes make it sound: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/05/03/gender-pay-gap

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