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What three economists think you should know on Equal Pay Day

April 4 marks Equal Pay Day — how far into 2017 women would have to work to make what men made in 2016.

Making Sen$e chatted with three experts on the pay gap: economist Francine D. Blau of Cornell, managing director of the MacArthur Foundation Cecilia Conrad and economist Claudia Goldin of Harvard.

Here’s what they had to say on the pay gap, where it stems from and why it persists:

Francine D. Blau: Even when you level the playing field, women are still paid less

“It is important to know that we have made a great deal of progress in reducing the pay gap, but a significant gap remains, and it’s still a big issue,” said Blau, noting that in 1980, women earned about 60 percent of what men earned.

Today, women make 77 cents or 80 cents on a man’s dollar, depending on whether you look annual or weekly earnings of full-time workers, respectively.

But these are unadjusted figures, Blau said, and what one really wants to look at is how much women with similar qualifications earn relative to a man.

“In my most recent research with professor Lawrence Kahn, if you look at women and men with the same education and actual labor market experience, we find that women earn 82 percent of what the men earned,” Blau said. “If you also control for the occupation and industry, then the women earn 92 percent of what the men earned.”

Weighted, the pay gap is smaller, she said, but it’s still sizeable.

Cecilia Conrad: The pay gap affects all women, some more so than others

“Is it an education gap? Most of the evidence says no,” Conrad said. “People might also say [men and women] work different hours. And if we still control for that, the pay gap persists.”

Are the occupations women choose to blame for the pay gap? While women tend to go into occupations that pay less, there’s another question to ask, Conrad said: Do women choose low-paying jobs or “are jobs that women do paid less?” New research from Cornell suggests the latter plays a factor.

“The other piece to [the pay gap] is that some of this is related to the constraints reflected in the work that women and men do at home,” Conrad said. Women’s professional choices may be constrained, because they have a heavier share of workload at home, caring for children and doing housework.

“It is important to recognize that the pay gap carries across ethnic and racial groups,” Conrad said. But it’s worse for some than it is for others.

Black women working full time make 71 cents on a man’s dollar. For Hispanic women, that’s just 61 cents. White women, on the other hand, make 85 cents on a man’s dollar.

Claudia Goldin: The pay gap is real, but it has to do with some women’s choices.

The pay gap is real, Claudia Goldin said. “It’s not fake news.” The question is: Where does the difference in pay come from?

“There are a lot of people who talk about how women are worse negotiators, and when they bargain hard, they get punished. These topics get talked about a lot, because they seem like just the thing we can do something about,” Goldin said. “We can give employers implicit bias tests, we can train women to become better negotiators — but I think that the weight of the evidence is that we can do all of that and that we won’t move the needle as much as we want to.”

The fact is, she said, there are other factors at play: the ones women make their own choices about. “Women demand less work hours, they want more flexible hours,” Goldin said. “That costs something.”

“A lot of people will talk to you about the sexy issues” —  discrimination and negotiation — “and they can make them into the biggest things on earth, but trust me, if they were, they wouldn’t be here anymore,” Goldin said. In other words, the pay gap is partially women’s own making.

Editor’s Note: The MacArthur Foundation is a funder of PBS NewsHour.

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