PolitiFact: Women’s pay-lag figure can be misapplied


On April 10, “Equal Pay Day,” Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., tweeted out her support for an end to differential pay for men and women.

But there’s a problem with her tweet: The statistics showing that women earn 80 percent of what men earn are overall comparisons and do not specifically compare men and women in the same jobs.

After we reached out to Smith’s office, she sent a new tweet to correct her earlier misstatement.

The most recent official data on this point, published by the U.S. Census Bureau, showed women earned 80.5 percent of what men did. That’s up by a couple percentage points in recent years.

However, as we’ve written previously, this figure actually refers to the general pay disparity, not comparing cases of apples to apples.

The 80 percent figure does not adjust for such factors as the degrees and jobs women pursue, the time they take off to care for children, the number of hours they work, and the years of experience they’ve had.

So while the 80 percent figure cannot be used to pinpoint pay discrimination between men and women doing the same work.

Other studies have shown a significantly closer match for men and women holding the same jobs. For instance, a 2013 study by the American Association of University Women found a 7 percent wage gap between men and women a year after graduating college.

Smith did have a point that women of color tend to fare more poorly on pay comparisons than do white women.

A 2014 report from the National Women’s Law Center concluded black women made 60 cents to the dollar earned by a white man, and Hispanic women made 55 cents.

Asian-American women earn higher wages than black and Hispanic men and women, as well as white women, Pew Research has found. Still, Asian-American women lagged behind white males for annual earnings.

Our ruling

Smith’s initial tweet said, “On average, American women only earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for doing the same job.”

The official federal data show that women earn 80 percent of what men earn, but that’s a collective average for all jobs, not a comparison of men and women holding identical jobs. For men and women holding the same job, there’s still a gap, but it’s substantially smaller.

Our policy is to acknowledge and applaud after-the-fact corrections by speakers we check, but we still put the original comment to the Truth-O-Meter. So Smith’s initial remark rates Mostly False.


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