The White House claims that:

On average, full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Is it the case?

  • 1
    This all comes back to the gender pay gap which is highly controversial and the answers are dependent upon what you are asking.
    – rjzii
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 16:00
  • 2
    I've re-opened based on @Articuno's edit, with the proviso that this is a rather uncontroversial variant of the claim - the more contentious issues occur when people try to factor out confounding issues like experience, age, training, hours per week, seniority, etc.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 17:58
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    @IlyaMelamed They mean something closer to the latter. The sentence includes no controls for same job or same anything.
    – user5582
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 22:02
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    I think the question needs to be rephrased, because it doesn't really matter whether the claim is true or not. What the average reader wants to know (and will deduct from this statement) is whether a woman is earning the same as a man doing the same job with identical qualifications. The average pay is easier to determine, but it does not answer the real question.
    – Twinkles
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 12:12
  • 2
    @Twinkles Every notable claim deserves examination on this site. Andre the Giant's hand, and yes, also this simple one. You can always ask a separate question if you have a more nuanced claim examined :)
    – user5582
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 5:56

2 Answers 2


It is not as accurate to claim that on average full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. A more accurate claim using the proper mathmatical nomenclature would be ...

In 2011, the median full-time year-round* working female age 15+ earned 77 percent of what the median full-time year-round working male age 15+ earned.

*[25] A full-time, year-round worker (page 20 pdf, labeled page 12) is a person who worked 35 or more hours per week (full time) and 50 or more weeks during the previous calendar year (year round). For school personnel, summer vacation is counted as weeks worked if they are scheduled to return to their job in the fall.

The White House website is publishing that statistic that also shows up in their Fifty Years After the Equal Pay Act (FYAtEPA) report.

This progress notwithstanding, in 2011, the average woman still earned only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.[1]

The source of the claim, according to the FYAtEPA, comes from the Census Bureau

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. “Women's Earnings as a Percentage of Men's Earnings by Race and Hispanic Origin.” Historical Income Tables, Table P-40. (2011). http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/people/.

Table P-40 notes that the 77.0 percent ratio is a comparison of the median full-time female to median full-time male.

(Based on median earnings of full-time, year-round workers 15 years old and over as of March of the following year. [...])

The median and average(mean) are not the same thing, but sometimes the word average is used when a median value is reported for a statistic, because median values have a central tendency and are less skewed by exceptionally high/low values. The more commonly used "average" (mean) full-time working woman's earnings from the Census Bureau, Table P-37. Full-Time, Year-Round Workers by Mean Income and Sex: 1955 to 2012. Using those figures from 2011, you would determine that a full-time year-round working woman earns on average 72.2 cents (49040 / 67913) for every dollar a full-time year-round working man earns.

There is a wide range of criticism over the 77 cent figure. Some reporters even noted the White House's own pay gap, where the average women earns only 91 cents of what the average man working at the White House earns.

This comparison of median/mean earnings is on a broad level and does not control for many factors that can be significant in explaining earnings differences. One factor is that women on average work fewer hours then men do.

Among full-time workers (that is, those working at a job 35 hours or more per week), men are more likely than women to have a longer workweek. Twenty-six percent of men worked 41 or more hours per week in 2012, compared with 14 percent of women who did so. Women were more likely than men to work 35 to 39 hours per week: 12 percent of women worked those hours in 2012, while 5 percent of men did.

There are more women in occupations with lower-pay, and less women in occupations with higher pay.

While women are more likely than men to work in professional and related occupations, they are more highly represented in the lower-paying jobs within this category. For example, in 2009, professional women were more likely (nearly 70 percent) to work in the relatively low-paying education (with $887 median weekly earnings) and health care ($970 median weekly earnings) occupations, compared to 32 percent of male professionals.

In 2009, only 7 percent of female professionals were employed in the relatively high paying computer ($1,253 median weekly earnings) and engineering fields ($1,266 median weekly earnings), compared to 38 percent of male professionals.

Women on average have less work experience than men (page 37).

on average, women at every educational level and at every age spend fewer weeks in the labor force than do men. The differences between men and women in labor force attachment are much smaller among those with a college degree or more education.2

  • @Zonata, that is what I am here for. I probably should mention that median values are often used in statistics because although they have other drawbacks, they do a good job of removing outliers from a set of values. The White House could use median female/male incomes, or average incomes, but the real problem with the pay gap is that it isn't an indication of discrimination which is commonly what it is used indicate. if you want to eliminate the pay gap, you are going to have to pay teachers more or engineers less, make men work less hours or women work more, etc.
    – user1873
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 21:33
  • @user1873 "if you want to eliminate the pay gap, you are going to have to pay teachers more or engineers less, make men work less hours or women work more" - do you have a citation for that?
    – user5582
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 5:02
  • @user1873 Which of them says that the only solution to the pay gap is to pay teachers more or engineers less or make men work less hours or women work more hours?
    – user5582
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 5:45
  • Your analysis of median vs mean is misleading. First off, the word "average" can refer to median, mean, or mode. So the median is an "actual average". You then present a hypothetical where mean is more representative than the median--an extremely bimodal distribution with very few data points in the middle. But pay distribution is not distributed like this. The gap in mean pay is probably larger than the median because of a small number of men earning very large salaries. (Mean may in fact be better than median in this case, but not for the reasons you provided.)
    – Kip
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:18
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    @Kip, corrected. Those arguments while accurate are not central to my answer. The biggest issue with the 77%/72% figure is that it is a broad statistic that doesn't factor in any of the reasonable explainatioins for the wage gap (hours worked, type of work, work experience, etc.), and tries to imply that this wage gap is an issue that should be addressed
    – user1873
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 18:28

If the wording were "paid" rather than "earned" then the answer is clearly "yes", and while both the left and right agree that there is a gap, there is disagreement on the magnitude, as evidenced by user1873's answer.

However, if the word "earned" remains, statistically, this is unlikely the majority cause. Thomas Sowell outlines the general case here: occupational choice, etc.

The vast plurality of the cause of the gap is experience. This has been detected by many studies over the decades.

There is some residual gap that cannot be explained by conventional causal statistics.

Some are trying to attribute the remaining gap to women's risk aversion relative to men's.

  • 1
    Even if you do insist on attributing the gap to women's risk aversion, assuming that can actually be determined, you don't state why a willingness to take more risk "earns" more money.
    – user18902
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 12:44

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