Numbers Game

August 10, 2010Read the research—the numbers tell the whole story.

A lot of ink has been spilled over a recent New York Times article which argued that childless women had careers that tracked men’s. “Women do almost as well as men today, as long as they don’t have children,” a Columbia University professor told the Times.

The article hinged on a recent study of M.B.A. grads from the University of Chicago that probed “women’s underperformance in the corporate and financial sectors.” But what did this report really show?

The authors found a vast wage gap exists between women and men. According to the report, women earn $115,000 on average at graduation and $250,000 nine years out, while men earn $130,000 and $400,000, respectively. “Mean earnings by sex are comparable directly following M.B.A. receipt,” they wrote, “but they soon diverge.”

How’s that for an understatement? Their “comparable” earnings are a $15,000 difference. I’m not sure about you, but I’d be pretty ticked at making $15k less just because I’m a woman.

Was this dramatic finding headline news? Nope.

Instead, media coverage fixated on a detail buried deep into the report. On page 243, the authors’ state:

"Limiting the sample further to women without children, and with no career interruptions by 10 years out, makes the career paths of the women in the sample similar to those of men. For that comparison, the gender earning gap starts out slightly larger than for all women, but grows less rapidly."

This suggests that for women without children, there’s still a gap at the start of their career after business school, and the gap still grows over time—albeit less quickly than it does for women with kids or who have taken time off.

Not really breaking news, is it? Catalyst actually reached a similar conclusion in Pipeline’s Broken Promise, which found that even among women and men without children, women still started behind men and the gap still grew over time.

The original New York Times article is accurate in saying there’s a bigger penalty for women who have kids and/or take time off (which isn’t surprising), but was misleading in suggesting to the reader that women without kids will face a level playing field with equal pay. The numbers are clear: Women are paid less than their male colleagues. They don’t call it a gender wage gap for nothing.

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.