Attorney General Mark Herring was among scores of Democrats across the nation who posted a message on April 14 in recognition of Equal Pay Day.
"According to U.S. Census data, by age 65, the average woman will have lost $431,000 throughout her working career as a result of the pay gap," Herring wrote on his Facebook page.
We wondered if he’s right.
A quick web search showed Herring’s words mirrored statements made by many liberal organizations and politicians since 2012 to quantify the pay disparity between women and men. Ellen Qualls, a senior political adviser to Herring, said the attorney general’s source was a 2012 White House blog headlined "By the Numbers: $431,000."
The calculation is based on Census Bureau statistics on the median yearly earnings of males and females, 15 or older, who worked full time for at least 50 weeks. In 2010, the middle pay was $47,715 for males and $36,931 for females. The gap was $10,784.
The next step is to multiply the gap by 40 -- representing the number of years one may have worked full time before reaching age 65. You come up with $431,360 and then round down.
The lifetime disparity increases slightly if you use the most recent census figures. In 2013, median pay was $50,033 for men and $39,157 for women. The gap rose to $10,876 which, multiplied by 40 years, comes to $435,040.
The question that intrigues experts is how much of the gap is attributable to sex discrimination.
A 2009 analysis by the nonpartisan CONSAD Research Corp. in Pittsburgh concluded that three-fourths of the disparity can be explained by other factors that are common to women:
they tend to choose occupations that have relatively low wages;
they tend to have degrees leading to lower-paying occupations than men; and
they take more time off than men for child-related reasons.
The American Association for University Women issued a 2013 report that offered similar explanations, saying the pay gap is partly due to "men’s and women’s choices, especially the choice of college major and the type of job pursued after graduation. For example, women are more likely than men to go into teaching, and this contributes to the pay gap because teachers tend to be paid less than other college graduates."
Pamela Coukos, a senior program advisor at the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said in a July 2012 blog post that "economists generally attribute about 40 percent of the pay gap to discrimination -- making about 60 percent explained by differences between workers or their jobs."
The White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a report this month citing 2007 research by two economists at Cornell University: Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn. They concluded that career choice and experience largely accounted for pay disparity. But 41 percent of the gap is unexplained, they concluded, opening up the possibility that some or all of it was caused by discrimination.
Herring wrote, "According to U.S. Census data, by age 65, the average women will have lost $431,000 throughout her working career as a result of the pay gap."
The much-used figure accurately describes the disparity in the median earnings of men and women over a 40-year career. It’s widely accepted by economists that sexism plays a role in the gap, although, perhaps, not the lead part.
We quibble, however, with the part of the statement saying the average woman will have "lost" that sum. It ignores the fact that many women chose to go into lower-paying fields than men and make other lifestyle decisions that affect their career earnings.
On the whole, we rate Herring’s statement Mostly True.