Gender Wage Gap Skewed by Survey Flaws - Miller-McCune
The wage gap between the sexes in America has been closing much faster than anyone realized, but that’s tempered by learning it’s been much wider than measurements had shown.
The wage gap between the sexes in America has been narrowing much faster than observers ever realized, although this revelation by a pair of University of Georgia researchers isn’t as good a tiding as it could be. Jeremy Reynolds and Jeffrey Wenger, who have stumbled upon a quirk in existing survey data that could also color how we measure all types of other sociological trends, say statisticians have been as much as 50 percent off in tracking the progress of women’s wages in the work force.
“But that’s only because things were worse in the past than we had realized,” Reynolds said. “We’re not saying that women all over the U.S. should be rejoicing because it turns out the gender gap today is smaller than we thought. We’re saying something more like, ‘Women have come further than we realized.’”
So how do they know this when years of data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey have said otherwise? The short answer is that many respondents have not been answering the income question accurately — which is a judicious, academic way of saying that some of these folks have been, well, fibbing.
Reynolds and Wenger have identified an intriguing set of biases baked into the existing data on the gender wage gap: people tend to underestimate the wages of others and overestimate their own. Men, in particular, are really bad about this.
The authors, whose study will be published in the journal Social Science Research, identified these biases by examining data from the American Community Survey, which is also conducted by the Census Bureau. Respondents are interviewed multiple times, one year apart. When the researchers looked at how responses to these questions changed across the subsequent interviews (controlling for other factors), they found that people answered more generously for themselves than other people had for them.
About half of the data on this income question in the American Community Survey have long come from “proxy reporters” — people answering on behalf of others in their household. In the early ’80s, a majority of these proxy reporters were women. “They were simply around to answer the phone call,” Reynolds said, noting that women had not entered the work force full time back then to the extent that they have today.