I had a great time appearing on Fusion’s AM Tonight with Katie Bardaro, the lead economist at Payscale. I can't emphasize enough how instrumental Katie and Payscale were in terms of creating Fusion's lifetime earnings charting tool – without the incredible Payscale dataset, none of this would have been possible.

As with any dataset, however, there are differences of interpretation, and I think it’s fair to say that Katie and I have a significant difference when it comes to one of the key messages which comes across when you start playing with the interactive.

At about 3 minutes in to the video, the subject is broached by Katie, who says this to Fusion's Alicia Menendez:

"One of the bigger findings that you see is the comparison of men versus women, and that men out-earn women across all degrees and all levels of education. However that does come with one very important caveat, which is that men and women are inherently different in their major choices. The things that men major in versus the things that women major in are really what’s driving their earnings potential. And previous Payscale data has shown that men and women who major in the same thing, do the same job, work for the same employer, largely earn the same income."


I asked Katie to clarify this, in light of the large differences we see between men and women with seemingly identical qualifications, and she did:

"Even if they have the same degree, that’s not necessarily the same thing as having the same major. Women tend to major in life sciences, for example, in the sciences, where men tend to major in computer sciences and engineering. So there’s a big earnings gap there. Even if you look at men in life sciences versus computer science, you’ll see a big earnings gap."

The message here is that men and women are in fact more equal than the data would indicate: if you get granular enough, and find men and women with not only the same degree but the same major, and the same job, and the same employer, then most of the difference between them will disappear.


This however does a disservice to the magnitude and pervasiveness of the pay gap between men and women. Just look at some of the charts — not just for science graduates but in numerous other contexts as well. Indeed, just go up the scale. Here, for instance, are male high-school graduates versus female high-school graduates:

The pay gap been male and female high school grads

and here are similar charts for college dropouts, arts graduates, and people with graduate degrees in business, law, and medicine. All these charts are pretty much identical: just about the only place that you don't see a significant gap is between arts PhDs.


The pay gap been male and female college dropouts


The pay gap been male and female arts graduates

The pay gap been male and female MBAs


The pay gap been male and female lawyers

The pay gap been males and females with degrees in medicine

When a gap is this pervasive, across so many different groups of people, you can be pretty sure that there’s something going on beyond the choice of majors in college. And even in the case of science graduates, which Katie was talking about, there’s another way of framing what she’s saying. Which is basically that employers in professions which employ more women will tend to pay less than employers in professions which employ more men.


It’s frankly not much of a caveat to say, as Katie does, that if women were exactly the same as men — if they had exactly the same jobs, at exactly the same employers, and had exactly the same degrees — then they would earn the same amount of money as men do. The fact is that if women were exactly the same as men, they wouldn't be women, they would be men.

It’s the difference between men and women that we’re interested in, here, and it’s abundantly clear that one of the biggest differences between the two sexes is that men, across the board, simply earn more money than women do. The more that we can narrow that gap, the more equal our society will be. And so long as a gap this big and this pervasive continues to exist, women will continue to be second-class citizens in the USA.


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