Here’s my attempt to talk about the problems with gender wage gap statistics in a feminist way. The article below helped me better understand the quibbling. Full disclosure: This is following about 15 minutes of googling, so beware my truth bombs.
It sounds like the 77–79% number compares the median wage for women and men who are employed full-time across occupations. The controversy comes in because this number is sometimes mis-referenced as the difference in pay for the same work. I see two kinds of cases, maybe they both happen.
Case 1: The people misquoting the statistic are doing so knowingly because of the natural desire to simplify the message and use the starkest numbers possible when making a point. If this is the case, it seems strange that it would feel needed, because (according to this article), a large portion of the wage gap remains once you attempt to control for factors other than gender. Even if the “same work” gap is as close as, say, 92%, that’s still a pretty strong signal that there’s a problem with discrimination, conscious or unconscious. Why open up the discussion to nitpicky arguments (like I’m writing now) when a strong case could still be made with a more accurate number?
Also, the fact that women are in lower-paid occupations overall is a big part of the problem, so the 77–79% is meaningful, and we lose something by narrowing the discussion to the “same work” issue.
Case 2: Statistics are misquoted all the time with varying levels of intention, and the discussion around this issue is no worse than others in that respect. People, possibly including me, who are concerned with getting the number just right are suffering from a kind of unconscious bias where we’re more willing to put in effort to disprove something that goes against our worldview, even if on the surface we agree with the overall message. If I had no pre-existing knowledge, and I saw a headline that said “turns out there’s no difference in pay between men and women”, I’d probably be like “ah, cool. glad things are good for those womenfolk.” and go eat a sandwich. But when I see a headline about there being a problematic wage gap, my reaction is to say “wait, really?” and dig in to find some inconsistency.
Would love to hear related thoughts, especially from folks who’ve done more than my 15 minutes of research.