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April 27, 2011 Practice Points

Is There A Wage Gap?

By Sara Dionne

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an opinion-editorial piece entitled “There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap.” The piece, authored by Carrie Lukas, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, appeared on April 12. April 12 has been deemed “Equal Pay Day” by the National Committee for Pay Equity based on the idea that women must work until April 12 before they earn what men earned in the prior year. In the article, Lukas shares a number of interesting statistics. For example, she cites Department of Labor statistics that indicate full-time working men work on average three-quarters of an hour more per day than working women. She also highlights a 2010 study by Reach Advisors of single, childless, urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 and found that women in that group earned an average of 8 percent more than men. Relying on this study, Lukas opines that “[r]ecent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances.”

While the statistics discussed in the article are thought-provoking, they leave many questions unaddressed by the article’s conclusions. For example, while one might expect men’s greater average work hours to result in higher average pay, it is curious why this difference in work hours exists. Is it because of different choices that men and women make? Or is it the result of something else, e.g., the availability of opportunities, mentoring, and new challenges? Likewise, while the Reach Advisors study sounds promising, it also focuses on a narrow segment of the working population, focusing on an age range when workers have recently finished their education and are new to the job market.

In sum, while you may not be convinced by Lukas’s conclusions, her discussion of the wage gap reminds us that these are complicated and difficult issues.

Keywords: women, legal profession, law firm, equity, 16 percent

Sara Dionne works at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Sacramento, California.

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