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An Analysis of Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women

Economic research has identified numerous factors that contribute to the observed difference between wages paid to women and wages paid to men, commonly called the gender wage gap. Many relate to differences in the choices and behavior of women and men in balancing their work, personal, and family lives. These factors include, most notably, the occupations and industries in which they work, and their human capital development, work experience, career interruptions, and motherhood. Other factors are sources of wage adjustments that compensate specific groups of workers for benefits or duties that disproportionately impact them. These factors include health insurance, other fringe benefits, and overtime work.

This report presents, first, an integrative summary of pertinent economic research that has investigated possible sources of the observed difference between the earnings of women and men. Then, it presents results from a statistical analysis of the gender wage gap that, based on evidence from that research, has expanded the set of possible explanatory factors that have been examined using data from the Current Population Survey. The report demonstrates that it is not possible now, and doubtless will never be possible, to determine reliably whether any portion of the observed gender wage gap is not attributable to factors that compensate women and men differently on socially acceptable bases, and hence can confidently be attributed to overt discrimination against women.

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