The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Equal Pay Act (June 10) by leading a group of activists and children through the halls of Congress “demanding” more from the government. They will wear red and handout M&Ms to …

….represent that Congress has left women in the red due to its refusal to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. These M&Ms bear a not-so-sweet message. The candy is custom-printed with wage gap numbers, including 77 cents, because women are paid 77 cents, on average, for every dollar paid to men.

This demonstration comes on the heels of a Pew Research study showing that the number of married women who earn more than their husbands has gone from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. So the job market itself has changed and is still changing the gender pay equity discrepancy.

But organizations such as the AAUW cling to the obsolete, 77 cents wage-gap. We at IWF have long been in the forefront of pointing out that, when the choices women make (college majors, times off to raise children, and hours worked per week), the gap virtually disappears.

Interestingly the AAUW last year put out a study that debunked the wage gap. Of course, the study wasn’t publicized that way. It was sold as the latest evidence that there is a wage gap. (AAUW gave the wage gap as 82 cents to the dollar.)

But if one bored down into the data, the AAUW’s own study showed that the wage gap, to the extent that it exists, statistically could be no more than pennies to the dollar. Nevertheless, the study was entitled “Women New to the Workforce Are Paid Only 82 Cents to Men’s Dollar.” Carrie Lukas explained at the time:

From this heading, it’s clear that they want the media and readers to assume that the study found that two recent graduates—who sat next to each other during college, completing the same coursework, earning the same GPA and major, who then moved to the same city and were hired by the same firm for the same position—typically receive radically different compensation packages based on their sex, with the female grad receiving just 82 percent of her male colleague’s salary.  

Yet that’s not what the study found at all. Yes, a wage gap persists even among new grads. But when the choice or major, hours worked, and career choices are taken into account, the wage gap shrinks to 6.6 percent. That 6.6 percent is “unexplained.” Discrimination could play a role in that gap, but so could other factors. For example, as the AAUW discusses, differences in men and women’s willingness to negotiate their salaries could play a role. 

But why let facts get in the way?

The wage gap has been a handy talking point for the AAUW and others who want government to be more involved in the workplace for many years now.

It’s hard to give up something that valuable—even if your own study debunks it.