Closing The Gap

46% of American men think the gender pay gap is 'made up to serve a political purpose'

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Data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates that women earn, on average, 81 cents for every dollar a man makes.

But almost four in 10 Americans think the gender wage gap isn't real.

Instead, 46 percent of men and 30 percent of women believe the problem of equal pay and gender parity has been "made up to serve a political purpose" and is not a "legitimate issue," according to a survey of 8,566 American adults conducted in March by SurveyMonkey.

Media coverage of the topic doesn't seem to help convince them of the issue's legitimacy either. More than a quarter of Americans felt reports of the pay gap were "overblown," while another 16 percent chose to describe it as "fake news."

Men were not only more likely to doubt the issue's existence, but were also more skeptical of media reports, with 21 percent saying such coverage was "fake" vs. 12 percent of women.

Maybe more men felt that way because, in their eyes, many of the problems behind the gender wage gap have already been addressed. For instance, 43 percent of men said there is no difference by gender in compensation for performing similar work. Women, on the other hand, appear to feel differently — only a quarter agreed both genders were evenly paid.

Men were also more likely to believe that obstacles that once made it difficult for women to advance are now largely gone. Almost 60 percent said this, compared to 36 percent of women.

And when each gender was asked what causes may behind the Census Bureau's wage gap finding, more men pointed to reasons such as "women are generally in careers that don't pay as much" and "women work fewer hours than men."

More women believed unconscious bias, sexism, and a lack of women in leadership positions was to blame.

Understanding the gap

Part of this disbelief in the pay gap, and in media reports of it, may stem from confusion over how the gender wage gap is presented and discussed.

"I think some people get it wrong that [the pay gap] is all about discrimination against women, and another group of people get it wrong, that it has nothing to do with discrimination," Gary Burtless, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, told CNBC Make It as part of our look into what economists believe people don't understand about the gender wage gap.

Depending on how economists or analysts control for factors like job title, location, industry, educational attainment, company-size, work experience, and age, different size wage gaps emerge.

An example of this can be seen in a new report from jobs site Glassdoor. When the company looked at more than 425,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees on its site, it found that women earn 21.4 percent less than men, on average.

But when Glassdoor compared workers of similar age, education and experience, the adjusted gap shrank slightly, to 19.1 percent. And when it refined that comparison further to include only workers who also had the same job title and similar employers and locations, the gap fell to 4.9 percent.

This indicates that men and women's industry segregation, or tendency to pursue or be accepted into occupations that pay differently, is the largest driver of the gender pay gap, accounting for about 56.5 percent of the overall unadjusted pay gap.

But it also means not all of the 21.4 percent unadjusted wage gap Glassdoor found can be explained by reasons like job type, industry, education or other factors. In fact, only 13.8 percent of the gap can be explained by differences between male and female workers, the remaining 7.6 percent is likely due to "gender bias," Glassdoor concludes.

Closing the gap

Given the disbelief in the existence of the wage gap by such a large percentage of the population, it's no wonder legislative and industry efforts to address the issue have met with slow progress and it will be, at least, another 50 years before men and women achieve economic equality in the U.S., according to one estimate by Glassdoor.

The issue is also considered by some to be a partisan one "made up for political reasons" because Democrats have traditionally been more aggressive in pushing governments bills aimed at fixing the gender wage gap.

Their latest effort, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House of Representatives on March 27, aims to strengthen equal pay protections by banning employers from asking job applicants how much they previously made, prohibiting companies from retaliating against workers who share wage information, and increasing penalties for equal pay violations.

It would also require companies to share with the Department of Labor how much they're paying employees and demonstrate that any salary differences are based on factors other than sex, such as education or experience.

More than half of Americans support government involvement in the issue, saying they feel it should be doing more. Almost 70 percent of women felt this way, vs. 41 percent of men.

But Americans were generally divided on exactly what steps they wanted new legislation passed by the government to take.

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Just over half of Americans think requiring companies to share gender and pay information to the government or the general public would be helpful. A similar number, 52 percent, said banning employers from asking applicants about previous salaries would also help. (On all three counts, women were more likely than men to find merit in the proposals.)

Research backs such beliefs up, showing that transparency can be a powerful leveler because it allows workers in similar roles to see if they're underpaid and provides a clearer idea of the true value of their skills to their employer.

A recent study from the Harvard Business Review found that when legislation requires companies to disclose gender pay disparities, the pay gap shrinks and more women are hired and promoted to senior roles. The study also notes, however, that pay didn't become more equitable because women's wages rose, rather male wage growth slowed.

Seven states, Puerto Rico, and several cities have all already passed legislation forbidding employers from inquiring about a person's previous salary in an effort to close the wage gap, believing that will force companies to base a job offer not off a person's current wages, but instead on the going market rate of that individual's skills and talents.

Clear research supporting this logic is harder to come by. One survey found that nearly two-thirds of chief human resource officers and other corporate executives don't believe such a restriction improves pay equity.

And a 2017 PayScale study found that when women were asked about their salary history and refused to disclose it, they were offered 1.8 percent less than woman who had opted to share it. Men, on the other hand, received 1.2 percent more for refusing. PayScale reasoned this was because employers tend to assume women who don't want to give a number earn less.

But a ban would prevent employers from even asking, meaning women wouldn't be penalized for declining to disclose. Though, employers may continue to underestimate their prior compensation, regardless.

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