While watching the Big Ten basketball tournaments this month, viewers saw advertisements for the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America with the hashtag #retireinequality.
TIAA partnered with influential players and coaches in the NCAA and WNBA to bring attention to what it characterizes as the “staggering 30% retirement income gap between men and women.” The 30% number is based on the 33.7% gender gap in pensions, as calculated by an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study. The report says that “overall, women tend to have earned less and had shorter careers than men during their working lives.”
In a pension system where what someone pays into the system while working actually matters, lower pay earnings translate into lower pension income. Yet, in its #retireinequality campaign, the TIAA misleads women. The TIAA press release states, “Women still earn less — just 82 cents on the dollar compared to men,” citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to the Current Population Survey, full-time, year-round male workers had median earnings of $61,417 compared to $50,982 for female full-time, year-round workers in 2020. That makes the female-to-male earnings ratio .83. In 2019, it was .823. These data are what proponents of the narrative that “women make 83 cents for every dollar a man makes” rest their argument on.
But that is not what the data actually tell us. The data don’t compare a woman and man in the same job working the same hours. The data are misleadingly used to suggest women face an approximate 20% reduction in pay when working the same job with the same preferences and qualifications. Some people are now even spinning the “wage gap” narrative into the idea that women also face systematic discrimination in retirement income. This creates a supposed double whammy for women.
As a report by the National Institute on Retirement Security puts it: “The reality of the gender pay gap during a woman’s working life is well-established. Although the number changes slightly from year to year, women in the United States earn roughly $0.80 for every dollar earned by a man, with certain demographic groups earning much less.”
Many of the same factors that lead women to earn less during their working lives also mean that they have less money during retirement. That’s not because of discrimination but the choices that women make. Occupational choices, hours worked, and time out of the workforce or part-time work (women make up about two-thirds of voluntary part-time workers), for example, influence both pay and retirement. Women should be aware of this, especially since they have a lot at stake when it comes to retirement. After all, women tend to outlive men (should we call that the life gap?).
March 15 is Equal Pay Day, an annual “holiday” that supposedly marks how far into this year women must work to earn as much as men did the previous year. Equal Pay Day proponents sell young women and girls the idea that they face systematic discrimination in the workforce. If we really want to help women succeed, we should make sure that women and girls aren’t misled about the labor market and how their labor choices impact both their career earnings and retirement income.