Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Activists react outside the Supreme Court after the justices ruled, 5-4, in favor of retailer Hobby Lobby in a closely-watched case on religious liberty and contraception. Activists react outside the Supreme Court after the justices ruled, 5-4, in favor of retailer Hobby Lobby in a closely-watched case on religious liberty and contraception.

Activists react outside the Supreme Court after the justices ruled, 5-4, in favor of retailer Hobby Lobby in a closely-watched case on religious liberty and contraception.

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg November 28, 2014

Next time you find yourself sitting next to an anthropologist at a bar, ask him or her if moving away from traditional roles tends to make a society spend a lot of time talking about the status of women.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve tackled claims about women and domestic violence, equal pay, the cost of health care, how many go to medical school, and whether pregnancy drives them into poverty. Here are our top six fact-checks tied to gender.

Which is deadlier, war or domestic violence?

One of the icons of feminism, Gloria Steinem, made the shocking assertion that more women have been killed by their husbands or boyfriends since Sept. 11 than "all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq."

You can argue about the significance of such a comparison, but on the numbers, Steinem is accurate.

James A. Fox, a Northeastern University criminology professor, found that from 2002-12, the number of women killed by intimate partners was 15,462. A tally from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics showed 10,470 women killed in intimate partner homicides from 2002-10.

Fewer than 3,000 Americans died in the terrorist attacks on Sept.11, 2001. (There were 2,978 victims, but that includes people from 90 countries.) American deaths tied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq total 6,838, according the Pentagon. Together, there were about 9,838 deaths.

That’s less than the lowest estimate of women killed by their partners. We rated the claim True.

Having a kid and your risk of poverty

The advocacy group Moms Rising tweeted, "Having a baby is a leading cause of poverty spells in the United States." When we dug into the numbers, we found that losing a job is the biggest factor that drives a woman into poverty.

We did find that based on 1998 government data, about a quarter of all spells of poverty begin with the birth of a child. But even that information indicated that three-quarters of poverty spells stemmed from a loss of work hours.

Drilling deeper, we found an Urban Institute study that teased out the relative impact of different life events. This approach took into account that events can overlap, such as when having a child leads to the loss of a job. When all was said and done, however, out of the seven events the study assessed, having a child ranked in the bottom three and it was about a third as potent a factor as job loss.

We rated the claim False.

Women in some of the higher paid professions

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul was talking about how proud he was of how far the country had come in terms of gender equality. To make his point, Paul claimed that "over half of the young people" in medical, dental and law schools are women.

If Paul had been less specific and just talked about how many men and women are getting advanced degrees of any sort, he would have been right. The U.S. Census reports that if you look at the people with an advanced degree who are 25-29 years old, 58 percent are women.

But for medical, dental and law school students, the percentages for women are a hair under 47 percent in every case. To state the obvious, this is less than half.

We rated the claim False.

Women pay more than men for health care

We don’t often get the chance to fact-check a Supreme Court Justice, but in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the dissenting opinion "women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men."

We found that Ginsburg had it right. Officials at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality -- a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- walked us through the data in the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey. For 2011, women between 18 and 44 had out-of-pocket expenses that averaged 69 percent higher than men of the same age range.

What’s interesting is that it’s just about certain that Ginsburg relied on numbers that dated back to 1994. The percentages hadn’t changed in two decades. However, there are also some other recent estimates that find women pay 40 to 50 percent more.

The experts we checked with didn’t doubt that women of childbearing age tend to pay more out of their pocket for health care. "Women under 65 use a lot more health services than do men, especially preventive care, screenings and well-care, all of which is covered less by insurance than hospital expenditures," said Gail Wilensky, who headed Medicare and Medicaid under President George H.W. Bush.

We rated the claim Mostly True.

Young, single and making more than guys

The pay gap between men and women gets a lot of play. Conservative pundit Genevieve Wood aimed to give a more nuanced take and noted  that "young women today in metropolitan areas" who are childless and single are out-earning childless, single young males.

We tracked Wood’s source back to a 2010 analysis of Census data by Reach Advisors, a private research firm based in New York." That study found that in 2008, the median full-time salaries of single, childless women in America’s metropolitan areas were 8 percent higher than those of the guys in their peer group.

The cautionary note was that this makes no allowance for the different jobs women might hold. The author of that study told us that these women were 50 percent more likely to have graduated from college than their male counterparts. With higher skills, they got better paying jobs.

But as far as Wood’s statement went, she was largely correct.

We rated the claim Mostly True.

But wait! Women make 77 percent of what men make

One of the most common Democratic claims is that women "make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns." President Barack Obama said this in his State of the Union Address. The statement is largely accurate, but mainly because of what it leaves out. Obama didn’t say that women are paid less for doing the same job as men.

When politicians and pundits say that, they are wrong. For a variety of reasons, women tend to work in occupations that pay less. From what we’ve found, it’s very difficult to do a pure apples-to-apples comparison. The work that has been done suggests that there is a pay gap for equal work, but it isn’t as large as the 77 percent figure would have us believe.

However, Obama stayed on safer ground. According to the Census Bureau, women who worked full-time, year-round in 2012 made 77 cents for every dollar men earned across the country.

There are alternative measurements. For example, looking at women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found women made 82 percent of what men made. But that didn’t include anyone who was self-employed.

Whatever number one uses, opinions vary on how much of the gap is due to discrimination. We found estimates that ranged from 40 percent to 5 percent. But there’s no study that pins discrimination based on gender as the only reason for a gender pay gap.

We rated the claim Mostly True.

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

See fact-checks.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Jon Greenberg

PunditFact's top six claims about women