Today is reportedly Equal Pay Day.

Before we get hyped up by news reports about how much less women earn than men, let’s understand that a few basic things about the pay gap.

  1. The pay gap is not a measure of “equal pay for equal work” or a sign of widespread discrimination against women.  

  2. Wage discrimination is already illegal in the U.S.

  3. The pay gap is largely driven by the work choices that women and men make.

You might hear that women earn 79 or 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Even worse, that we won’t catch up until sometime in the 23rd century!

If that were true, why would any woman continue working at all?

Here’s the truth.

The pay gap is a simple comparison of averages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s average weekly earnings in full-time jobs were 82 percent of those for men in 2016.

This raw number may be misinterpreted to suggest widespread wage discrimination against women, but the data do not support that claim. When controlling for other factors, that gap shrinks. For example, when we control for hours alone, the pay gap shrinks to 11 percent. (Check out: What Drives the Pay Gap)

More recently, Glassdoor examined almost half a million salaries shared by full-time workers and found:

Men earned 21.4 percent higher base pay than women on average.

But …

Compare men and women of similar age, education, and experience, and the pay gap shrinks to
19.1 percent.

And …

Compare workers with the same job title, employer and location, the pay gap falls to
4.9 percent.
(or 95.1 cents per dollar)

So an apples-to-apples comparison of pay between men and women shows that any gap is actually quite small.

The big takeaway: most of those factors that impact the pay gap are based on the decisions women make. From how many hours to clock in a day, to what major to study in school, to what industry to work in, to what career track to pursue, these are choices women get to make. This means that women have great control over the wage gap.

Choosing a job with more flexibility, working fewer hours or pursuing a degree in an industry that is fulfilling (but carries lower salary) may be the right choice for a woman and should not be discounted. We should be empowered to pursue our own path.

Let’s not jump to the conclusion though, that gender discrimination is at work when it could simply be a matter of choice.