— There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics

                                                                                     —– Mark Twain

Given that Mark Twain is one of Hartford’s most famous residents (now "celebrating" 100 years since his death), it seems appropriate to invoke another one of his famous sayings.

Time and again, statistics keep getting raised to the forefront of public discourse. This time, it’s in the context of why we need the Paycheck Fairness Act — a proposed bill in Congress that I’ve discussed before.

Notably for those in Connecticut, the bill’s lead sponsor is Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn3.)

This week, Stephanie Thomas — an economic and statistical consultant specializing in EEO issues — published a thought provoking piece about one statistic being raised in support of the bill:  that women still only earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by men.

As Stephanie notes, when most people hear that statistic, they assume that gender discrimination must be the reason for the difference. But Stephanie says that discrimination cannot be the reason when you look at the data.

She goes to the original source for the statistic and found that well over half of the difference can be explained by non-discriminatory factors:

[In the study, the researchers] found that 59% of the gender differential could be explained by non-discriminatory things: experience, chosen occupation, chosen industry, etc. So the "77 cents" statistic can’t be due to discrimination:

  • Estimated wage gap based on "77 cents" statistic = $0.23 per hour
  • Amount explained by nondiscriminatory factors = $0.14 per hour
  • Amount NOT explained = $0.09 per hour

According to [the study], the most that could be attributed to discrimination is $0.09 per hour. And this assumes that their model accounts for ALL legitimate nondiscriminatory factors.

She notes that there may be other reasons for the difference as well such as negotiating skills.

Of course, that’s not to say that there may not be yet compelling reasons for changes in the law. But as Stephanie is wise to point out — using this statistic as the basis isn’t one of them. 

(Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Flickr photostream)