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By Janel Davis April 12, 2013

Gender wage gap claim needs more context

Next month, South Carolina voters head to the polls for a special election to select a new representative for the U.S. House in the state’s 1st Congressional District.

The race between former Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican candidate known for his infamous antics, and Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a Democratic candidate known for her talk-show host brother’s antics, has garnered national attention for Georgia’s next-door neighbor.


This week, Colbert Busch tried to capitalize on Sanford’s poor reputation with women, while pushing for equity in employee pay.


The Colbert Busch campaign did not return a call and an email for comment.


"In South Carolina, women earn 76 cents on the dollar to men’s earnings," the candidate said in a news release. She went on to say that "I am committed to making sure that women earn the same pay for the same work."


PolitiFact has heard and examined similar wage gap claims before. We decided to revisit the claim and check any new material available on the subject to see whether Colbert Busch’s claim was correct.


Colbert Busch made her comments about the wage gap on Equal Pay Day. That day symbolizes how many months after one year a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man earned that same one year.


In conjunction with Equal Pay Day, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report examining the pay gap in the states and 50 largest metropolitan areas. For South Carolina, the group found that women in general are paid 76 cents for every dollar paid to men. The report is based on census data of full-time, year-round workers. The NPWF used the study to push for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act to prevent pay discrimination.


Colbert Busch’s figure is correct, and based on numerous studies that have controlled for factors like education level and time on the job and they still cannot explain the gender wage gap, said Drucilla Barker, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of South Carolina. "Women and men do different kinds of work and in general women’s work pays less than men’s work," she said. "The question then becomes ‘why?’"


Last year, a National Women’s Law Center report provided a state-by-state ranking comparing median earnings for both genders for full-time, year-round workers, regardless of occupation, based on census data. The report found that in 2011 in South Carolina, women earned 75.6 cents for every dollar earned by a man.


The state gaps follow the often-repeated national data that shows women earning 77 cents to every dollar a man earns.The 77-cent figure is derived from a 2010 census report comparing female-to-male earnings ratio of full-time, year-round workers.


But that report compares all workers, regardless of occupation and other factors such as education level and time on the job. It has been used widely to support eliminating gender discrimination.


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Last June, in a campaign ad, President Barack Obama claimed that women are "paid  77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men." Obama neglected to include employee factors such as education level, occupation and time on the job in his analysis, and received a Mostly False rating for oversimplifying his statement. A few months later, Colorado legislator Diana DeGette received a Mostly True rating for her claim that women "receive only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns" because she did not use the "same work as men" qualifier.


The 23-cent gap has been challenged by economists and policy groups who say the gap is much smaller when factors such as education, type of job and experience level are considered.


This week, the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative nonprofit group, posted a video about the gap, calling it inaccurate, and saying that proposed laws to close the perceived gap will lead to undue government regulation.


In October, a study by the American Association of University Women, which advocates for equity for women and girls, analyzed men’s and women’s earnings one year after graduation.

Study authors maintain that a wage gap for almost all occupations still exists. When taking qualifiers such as education, training, age and parental status into account, women in 2009 still earned 6.6 percent less than men, the study concluded.


This unexplained gap could be attributed to gender discrimination and women’s ability to negotiate salaries, the report found. An AAUW researcher noted that the wage gap can grow as careers progress.


How much of a pay gap between women and men is due to discrimination against women is unclear, said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution. "But a fair-minded person should certainly take account of hours worked per week before calculating the earnings penalty of being a women. It is less clear how much of the occupational difference, the job tenure difference and the work experience difference between women and men we should take into account."


Our conclusion:


Colbert Busch said that in South Carolina, women earn 76 cents on the dollar to men’s earnings.


PolitiFact has examined similar wage gap claims several times over the past couple of years. During that time, the data used to make the claims has been reviewed extensively. Each time, we have noted that some studies reporting the larger gaps do not take into account several variables impacting pay, including types of occupations, age of employee, education and training, hours worked and duration on the job.


That is the case with the claim made by Colbert Busch.


Making such a blanket statement without the context of the qualifiers is disingenuous.


There is a wage gap between men and women. She is right about that.


But most studies indicate it tends to diminish when other factors are considered. Colbert Busch’s claim is accurate, but it leaves out substantial context that would give the reader a different impression.


We rated Colbert Busch’s claim Half True.

Our Sources

News release, "On Equal Pay Day, Colbert Busch to address women on need to fix the gap," April 9, 2013

Huffington Post, "Wage gap myth exposed -- by feminists," Christina Hoff Sommers, Nov. 4, 2012

National Committee on Pay Equity, Equal Pay Day

Email interview, Gary Burtless, Brookings Institution, April 11, 2013

Phone interview, Drucilla Barker, professor of women’s and gender studies, University of South Carolina, April 11, 2013

U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010," September 2011

American Association of University Women, "Graduating to a Pay Gap," Christianne Corbett and Catherine Hill, October 2012

ABC News, "Women grads earn 82 cents on dollar for male peers, one year after college," Susanna Kim, Oct. 24, 2012

PolitiFact, "Diana DeGette says women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man," Katie Sanders, Sept. 5, 2012

PolitiFact, "Barack Obama ad says women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men," Louis Jacobson, June 21, 2012

PolitiFact Georgia, "In every state women are paid less than men," Janel Davis, Oct. 1, 2012

Independent Women’s Forum video, "The wage gap myth," Lisa De Pasquale, April 9, 2013

Center for American Progress, "Growing occupations could help decrease the wage gap if they were to pay a living wage," Jane Farrell and Lindsay Rosenthal, April 9, 2013

New York Post, "Mark Sanford unveils Argentinian ‘Appalachian Trail’ fiancee, will face Stephen Colbert’s sis in special election," Associated Press, April 3, 2013

National Women’s Law Center, "2011 Wage Gap: State Rankings," Sept. 20, 2012

National Partnership for Women and Families, "What’s the wage gap in the states and top 50 metropolitan areas?" and South Carolina fact sheet, April 2013, text of S. 3220 (112th): Paycheck Fairness Act

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