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

By Jim Tharpe April 4, 2014

Carter exaggerates gender pay gap

The scribes at PolitiFact Georgia thought they heard some familiar numbers when former President Jimmy Carter recently told a national television audience that women in the U.S. make much less than men for the very same work.

Carter was promoting his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power."  A former Georgia governor, Nobel Peace Prize winner and perhaps the nation’s best-known Sunday school teacher, Carter is also a prolific author.

"In the United States for the same exact work for a full-time employee, women get 23 percent less pay than men," Carter told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview that aired March 24.

The so-called "gender wage gap" gets a lot of ink. PolitiFact has fact-checked various incarnations of the statistic Carter uses as the basis of his claim. Speakers have ended up all over the Truth-O-Meter depending on how accurately they framed the results of the study upon which the numbers are based.

President Barack Obama ended up on the Truth-O-Meter for his take on the numbers during his 2012 campaign. He got a Mostly False ruling.

Carter made a similar claim last year at a women’s conference in Atlanta. He told the conference that women in the United States are paid about 70 percent of what men earn for the same work. PolitiFact Georgia rated that statement Mostly False.

Carter’s claim here is a bit different and more specific than the claim we checked last year. And this time, he was using the numbers to tout his book. PolitiFact Georgia decided to take another look.

We reached out to Carter, and his assistant, Steven Hochman, emailed this about Carter’s television interview: "In a conversation or an interview, sometimes we don’t say all we want to say. In the United States for the same exact work, most women earn less than men.  For full-time employees, the median annual earnings are about 23 percent less for women than for men."

Let’s start with a basic primer on wages and gender.

Experts agree there is a gender-based wage gap. But it is not as simple as it seems. Differences in the life choices of men and women — such as women tending to leave the workforce when they have children — and other factors make it difficult to make simple comparisons.

Featured Fact-check

The number Carter used in his TV interview comes from a U.S. Census Bureau study that looked at the total wages earned by male and female workers. The study found men’s total wages were about 23 percent higher than the total amount of women's wages. But that large discrepancy was due in part to the fact that men generally work more hours. The study did not attempt to look at equal pay for the same work or the same number of hours worked.

Other data -- including hourly wages tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as data comparing the same jobs -- yield smaller wage gaps.

Experts say the figure, which is often used to bolster arguments for gender-based wage bias, is misleading. Advocates often use the Census Bureau report because it shows the largest wage gap.

The number does not take into account critical factors that could influence the figure, including specific occupation, time on the job and education level.

And the gap drops dramatically if you compare men and women of similar education levels, job titles, time on the job and other relevant factors.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis cited one survey, prepared for the Labor Department. It found that when such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap vanished. It shrinks to the low single digits.

Carter’s public statements about the gender wage gap are also at odds with his book. On Page 168, Carter states that "full-time female workers still earn about 23 percent less than men." There is no mention here of less pay for the "same exact work."

During his MSNBC interview, Carter took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it is. The 23 percent figure is real. But it does not factor in occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure.

That statistic does not refer to the pay of women doing "the same exact work" as men. There is a gender pay gap. But Carter vastly overstated it during his television interview.

We rate Carter’s statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Politico, March 24, 2014 "Jimmy Carter: Religion part of pay inequity,"

U.S. Census Bureau, Current population reports, Consumer Income, issued September 2011 "Income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2010."

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, April 2013 "The gender wage gap by occupation."

Film clip, The Carter Center Conference, "Conference mobilizes faith groups to advance women's rights," June 28, 2013

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23

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

United Nations 2011-2012 report, "Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice"

Email from Steven Hochman, aide to former President Jimmy Carter, April 1, 2014.

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

Institute for Women's Policy Research, "The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation," April 2011

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Table 1. Median years of tenure with current employer for employed wage and salary workers by age and sex, selected years, 1996-2010," accessed June 21, 2012

Institute for Women's Policy Research, "Obama is Right About His Wage Gap Statistics," June 13, 2012

Washington Post Fact Checker, "The White House’s use of data on the gender wage gap," June 5, 2012

Bloomberg, "Shining Shoes Best Way Wall Street Women Outearn Men," March 16, 2012


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Jim Tharpe

Carter exaggerates gender pay gap

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up