"Women (are) paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men."
President Barack Obama, in a campaign ad
President Barack Obama's re-election campaign released a new ad aimed at women on June 21, 2012.
Here's the narration: "The son of a single mom, proud father of two daughters, President Obama knows that women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn't just unfair, it hurts families. So the first law he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help ensure that women are paid the same as men for doing the exact same work. Because President Obama knows that fairness for women means a stronger middle class for America."
In this item, we're checking the claim that "women (are) paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men."
The 77 cent figure has become a rallying cry for those who seek to eliminate employment discrimination based on gender. And it's a genuine statistic. In a report released in September 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau wrote that in 2010, the female-to-male earnings ratio of full-time, year-round workers was 0.77." Translated into dollars, that means that in 2010, women working full-time earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men working full time.
But the Obama ad takes a solid statistic and describes it incorrectly. The campaign is wrong to say that the 77-cent figure describes the pay differences between men and women "doing the same work."
The 77-cent figure compares all male and female workers, regardless of their occupation. Whether due to a historical legacy of discrimination or because of personal choice, women and men are disproportionately represented in certain jobs. For instance, women dominate the ranks of receptionists, nurses, and elementary and middle-school teachers, among other fields. Men are disproportionately truck drivers, managers and computer software engineers.
"If more men tend to be employed in occupations that pay higher wages both to men and women, then men may enjoy an overall earnings advantage even if all women in each occupation receive exactly the same hourly pay as the men who are employed in the occupation," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution.
Indeed, if you look at men and women working in the same professions, the pay gap is much smaller (though for most professions, it doesn't disappear entirely).
For computer programmers, for instance, women earn 95 cents for every dollar a man earns. For cashiers it's 92 cents. For cooks and customer service representatives, it's 95 cents. Other occupations have more unequal ratios. Women who are personal financial advisers, for instance, earn just 58 cents of what men in that job earn.
The Obama campaign took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it actually is. We rate this statement Mostly False.
Louis Jacobson, Times Staff Writer
This ruling has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.