Context is King

September 14, 2010Here we go again. Sometimes news—even good news—gets blown out of proportion. That’s what’s happening now with the gender wage gap.

Recent headlines like “What gender pay gap? Young single women making MORE money than their male peers in America's cities,” and “Workplace Salaries: At Last, Women on Top,” imply the gender pay gap has closed for all women. But it hasn’t. The gap is alive and well.

These stories were pegged on recent market research that found that single, childless women aged 22 to 30 earn, on average, 8% more than their male counterparts in select U.S. cities. This important finding—largely reflective of increased rates of higher education among young childless women who work in cities with a knowledge-based economy—is good news. But the catchy headlines do not reflect the whole story.

The market study compared young women and men with different educational backgrounds. But what happens when you compare the salaries of women and men side-by-side with the same degree?

In Catalyst’s Pipeline’s Broken Promise, we found that women with M.B.A.s start behind, and stay behind, men with the same degree. In fact, women earn $4,600 less than equally skilled men in their first job out of business school—and this pay gap increases over time. And according to the latest U.S. Census figures, the median salary for women with Master’s degrees is actually lower than the median for men with only a Bachelor’s.

Does this seem fair to you?

I welcome research indicating that some young women in some cities are more than holding their own with wages. But for most women, it’s not yet time to break out the champagne.

Like the “mancession” stories that proclaimed new opportunities for women to advance in the absence of men, a lot of the recent pay gap coverage overstates the facts and does not take into account all the nuances of the data.

Context is king. Don’t lose sight of the larger picture and what still needs to be fixed.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.