BU Today


POV: Sorry Patricia Arquette, Women Are Doing Better Than You Think

Less pay inequality, with lingering differences mostly because of job choices


I had two emotions when I heard Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech last week for her well-deserved Oscar for Boyhood. First: good for her to want to spend her speech trying to improve the world by calling for pay equity between genders instead of reveling in her own fame.

Second, however: what a shame that she believes the same old pseudo-facts instead of thinking for a second about what the statistics really mean. Why can’t people learn to be critical about statistics?

One day after the annual observance of International Women’s Day, here’s the real scoop. The average of 77 cents on the dollar that women receive compares the median annual income for full-time, full-year 25-to-69-year-old women and men. That average is much better than it was as recently as 1980 (when women made less than 60 percent). But that’s not a fair measure. If you compare women and men doing the jobs with the same kind of job history and for the same time devoted to their current job, you get numbers closer to 92 cents on the dollar. While that’s not 100 cents, it leaves a very different taste in your mouth than 77.

Why has the gap closed as much as it has? Because women used to have less education and much less experience than men. Every new generation becomes more similar along those lines. In fact, women now are getting more education than men, as the 57 percent ratio of women to men in US universities attests. Women also make different choices about their careers and their majors and their jobs, and until men and women make the same or similar choices, they’ll get paid differently.

For instance, take a look at the facts in my recently published article about women in science academia. If you compare salaries of women in the same field at the same academic rank in major research universities, women earn slightly more on average at entry level (assistant professor) tenure-track jobs, as well as at the most senior jobs, and slightly less in the intermediate level jobs (associate professor). But non-tenure-track jobs pay much less than tenure-track jobs, and women dominate that group.

So those interested in equality need to do two things. They need to understand why men and women are choosing different careers (even within academia) and then decide if this is something they want to change. And they want to identify the relatively few occupations where identical-seeming women and men get paid differently, and figure out why and what they can do about it. In this latter category, I include my own field (academic economists) and Arquette’s (filmmaking, both actors and most others whose credits we see scrolling down the screen).

Understanding the first part is far more important, because it affects far more women. If different career choices depend on people’s true preferences as to what they want to spend their time doing, so be it. If the choices depend on the kinds of jobs people believe they can get (based on stereotypes, financial limitations, actual or perceived discrimination, and the like), then as a society, we need to figure out how to reverse that.

But if the different choices result from women (more than men) wanting the flexibility of time they need to raise their children and go to parent-teacher meetings, things won’t completely change until more employers pay a lot more attention to offering flexible hours in the interest of attracting talented women. Or until fathers want to take an equal role in child rearing and mothers let them.

Shulamit Kahn, a School of Management associate professor of markets, public policy, and law, can be reached at skahn@bu.edu.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.


32 Comments on POV: Sorry Patricia Arquette, Women Are Doing Better Than You Think

  • Kate on 03.09.2015 at 7:26 am

    This does not ring true for my field. Income in equality and hiring inequality are still rampant in ministry.

  • BU Prof on 03.09.2015 at 7:51 am

    Kahn asks “why can’t people learn to be critical of statistics?” After reading this article, I ask, how do pseudo-scholars get away with their poor reasoning and research? Whatever ‘equalization’ Kahn finds in some sciences cannot at all be generalized. In other fields – most fields – it’s obviously not about “choices”: if it were, then women and men would get equal pay right out of college (the pay difference would then emerge later). They do not (as studies which Kahn deliberately ignores show clearly). This is typical economists’ reasoning: emphasizing correlation rather than causation, and universalizing models from basic (wrong assumptions) and restricted studies.

  • Tatiana Green on 03.09.2015 at 8:10 am

    I think this needs to be more intersectional. A lot of the stuff you say is true for WHITE women. That old 77 cents number was for white women while for black and latina women it was more around 69 cents. Also you didn’t really touch on one of the most disturbing parts of her speech like when she said “it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” Ummmm excuse me? People of color don’t owe white women s**t! She stands there on her podium saying people of color need to stand with her as she accepts her award at a show that snubs people of color every year. She stands there asking for solidarity but I don’t remember seeing her at any of the #blacklivesmatter protests… hmmm

    • Mark on 03.09.2015 at 3:38 pm

      EXACTLY! Naturally, I would hope the pay gap is decreasing over time, as more women receive higher levels of education and begin to break into historically male-dominated sectors. I don’t think Arquette’s comments were controversial for what she said during her speech (which is what this article focuses mostly on)–it was her after speech, where she showed her ignorance of intersectionality. What about women of color who typically make less and are of lower economic status, and therefore cannot achieve get to the levels where ‘white women’ are?

    • John Bob on 03.11.2015 at 2:26 pm

      Give it up, Tatiana. Not everything is about color. You see race in every little thing. How about agreeing with her instead of shooting her down? Maybe women would do better if you all banded together and stopped taking shots at each other

      • Tatiana Green on 03.12.2015 at 9:13 pm

        I’m not taking shots. I’m pointing out the huge holes in her speech

  • Dr. V on 03.09.2015 at 8:15 am

    While I agree with you about the need to think critically about statistics, if you are accounting for all other variables in the “adjusted” number offered, the fact is that women are paid 92% of what men are paid simply and solely because they are women. THAT is unacceptable and highly problematic. While it may “leave a different taste” in YOUR mouth, it certainly does not make ME feel any better to know that just because I am a woman my work is valued at even an eight per cent discount.

    And, yes, there has been progress. Thank goodness and hard fighting people for that. BUT, we are still far from any point of fairness. Having a clear sense of what is causing the continued inequity, no matter the degree of difference, is a very good idea, but let’s not pretend that the problem is exaggerated. Any distinction in pay that is based on any individual characteristics other than one’s actual job qualifications, be it sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., is and should always be utterly unacceptable.

  • Bridget on 03.09.2015 at 8:18 am

    How can you be satisfied with “you get numbers closer to 92 cents on the dollar” – it won’t be equal until it is 100%, don’t you think?

  • Maria on 03.09.2015 at 8:19 am

    According to the recent BU statistics on promotion to a higher professorship rank a tiny fraction of women were promoted to associate and full professors: 5 women versus 16 men. And don’t tell me there are no women candidates in our school! being in academia for 20-something years I know women spent same or more time working but get fraction of recognition, especially at higher levels. The stigma of is deeply embedded in men and women alike, and in the mind of the author of this article.

  • Sandra on 03.09.2015 at 9:16 am

    your conclusion on the statistics that drove your theory is suspect at best. Where do you factor for race, geography, professions etc. Until salaries are 100% equal there will be a bitter taste in our mouths and it should continue that way so that POVs like yours don’t gain traction. Written by a man!

    • CB on 03.09.2015 at 10:42 am

      Perhaps before you attack Dr. Kahn’s argument and dismissing it because it is written by a man, perhaps you should check Dr. Kahn’s sex. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not male.

      • Maria on 03.09.2015 at 11:23 am

        There is nothing more damaging for women than anti-woman bias originating from a female. What an “anti-role model”

    • Asdf on 03.09.2015 at 10:58 am

      Oh yeah, because I’m sure the multi billion dollar industry of airing white women’s grievances is going to shut down once everything is finally “equalized”.

  • R.J. on 03.09.2015 at 9:47 am

    I opened the link to this article when I read the headline just to confirm my suspicion that it was a man who wrote it. I’m shocked a woman would write this. Just because things are better than they used to be, doesn’t mean they are where they should be and are still far from equal.

  • ED on 03.09.2015 at 9:56 am

    The fact that the “correct” number is 92% and not 100% is an injustice. This article is insulting.

  • Jim Rising on 03.09.2015 at 9:57 am

    I believe Kahn miss-spoke. People (esp. professionals) need to *understand* statistics. The minute people start inferring causality from correlation they need to climb out of the deep end (however qualified in their own profession, or edified with their own conclusions). I’m sorry, my wife and I feel similarly (and strongly) about her lower-paying work.

  • rich vs. poor on 03.09.2015 at 10:10 am

    Here are the facts: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/people/. I think that the issues of gender income inequality and racial income inequality are symptoms of broader income inequality that runs rampant in our society.

    I think that many of the opinions expressed here are the result of the political rhetoric we hear all too often, purposely designed to divide us all into separate interest groups so that we can be easily categorized and corralled into voting for a particular political party. What we need is a unified voice on this issue not a man vs. woman, race vs. race, etc.. I am a white male and income equality is an issue for me too.

  • Student on 03.09.2015 at 10:48 am

    I agree with many of the previous commenters. This article is just plain insulting. The author also fails to note that these pay inequality studies almost always involve comparing the salaries of men and women with comparable experience in COMPARABLE jobs and positions, effectively eliminating this idea that “women are unequal because they choose different fields”. I’m shocked BU posted this. It’s factually incorrect and incredibly insulting.

  • Maria D. on 03.09.2015 at 11:03 am

    “If the choices depend on the kinds of jobs people believe they can get (based on stereotypes, financial limitations, actual or perceived discrimination, and the like)…” << If? There is no "if." Of course, of course, of course the inequality in question is a result of systemic injustice and cultural history.

    In making some of the points you do above, you completely ignore related and very troubling trends, for just one example the expanding documentation of instances in which women are viewed and/or treated negatively compared to men simply for attempting to negotiate pay. As long as THAT stigma exists across the board — and it absolutely does — don't preach that the gap is happily closing and that it's potentially up to women to make different choices. Give me a break!

    To be fair, I didn't hear her speech. But I read this article carefully twice and to me its message rings totally empty.

  • Alumnus on 03.09.2015 at 11:04 am

    I am always surprised when I see people so passionate about equal pay completely omit all the issues surrounding parenthood. I think Kahn nailed it when he mentioned the importance of bringing up conversations about fatherhood. Lobbying for increased paternal leave and more flexible work hours for fathers is just as important as any conversation about male/female pay.
    Until fathers are not only perceived, but also *expected*, to be present and participating parents, there will always be a discrepancy in what males and females can bring to their professions. This discrepancy will, sadly, be reflected in pay.
    In no way do I mean to minimize the importance of pay. Yet, flexibility and maternal leave should also be understood as a form of currency.
    Personally, I would love to start having a family. Sadly, I can not substitute 23¢ on the dollar for the flexibility I would like to be a present and loving father. I need to either continue working the hours I do, or get fired. The women in the company don’t suffer the same conundrum.

  • Staff on 03.09.2015 at 11:36 am

    To echo the headline: Sorry, Dr. Kahn, women are doing worse than YOU think. There are so many points to make, but I’ll focus on just one. Your observation that women “dominate” non-tenure track jobs is an interesting one. Does it occur to you WHY that might be? It’s due to the fact that women are often passed over for tenure-track jobs despite all their education and experience, which is frequently greater than that of the men who get those jobs instead. It’s also because there is still a latent bias against hiring women for the tenure track (and for partnership in law firms, for another example) due to the seemingly unshakeable perception that women of child-bearing age might need to take time off for maternity leave and/or child care and are therefore liabilities to be minimized. If you really want to add to the discussion, Dr. Kahn, rather than simply focus on your narrow study of women who have, against considerable odds, managed to obtain those higher level jobs and earn nearly as much as the other accomplished men in their fields, then you need to look at some statistics other than your own.

  • Postdoc on 03.09.2015 at 12:11 pm

    I agree with many of the previous commenters that this article is insulting on many levels. I would also like to point out that it’s a bit of a rehashing of old, already criticized ideas about “women’s choices” being the root cause of inequality in pay. The author cites the same work that sparked a NY Times piece entitled “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist”. The NY Times piece, which contains much of the same sentiment reflected here, and the work behind it was roundly dismissed as highly flawed, not to mention damaging to all the women who see and experience sexism in the workplace everyday. It is not all in our heads.

    I’ll just leave a sampling of these articles here:


  • mary ann spencer on 03.09.2015 at 5:41 pm


    • mary ann spencer on 03.09.2015 at 6:03 pm

      Ms. Kahn: You do not have the chops to be in this discussion. Stop writing of which you know so little and listen, learn. Give credit to Ms. Areuette for the courage to speak out.

  • A prof at BU on 03.09.2015 at 6:31 pm

    Quoting from the article: “you compare women and men doing the jobs with the same kind of job history and for the same time devoted to their current job, you get numbers closer to 92 cents on the dollar. While that’s not 100 cents, it leaves a very different taste in your mouth than 77.”

    This is still not equality by any means. Equality is when it is =100 cents for both men and women. I am rather disappointed in the article; I think women do themselves a disservice by attempting to minimize this issue. I agree with the other comments, this article was insulting to me as woman.

  • SJW hate on 03.10.2015 at 12:27 am


    For all you pseudo feminists out there

  • Leslie McErlean on 03.10.2015 at 8:58 am

    I have worked 35 years as a chef. I can tell you, their is little pay equity in my field. For this woman to make blanket statements about how we are getting there,is insulting. Come out of your golden tower, we need equal pay (100%) and child care should be a universal issue.

  • M on 03.10.2015 at 9:59 am

    Mary Ann,

    Please explain to all of us what makes Ms. Kahn’s opinion less valuable than any of ours? If you look at some of the data tables on the census bureau’s website (rich vs. poor was kind enough to provide actual data to the conversation) you’ll see that the pay gap between men and women is closing in the younger age groups. From 1970 to 2013 the median income for a male worker between the ages of 25 and 34 actually fell 23%. The median income for a female worker in the same demographic and time period increased by 52%. The situation is, by the numbers, improving for women and getting worse for men. In defense of Ms. Kahn, there are valuable conclusions to be drawn from the trends. If you wish to make such strong statements about someone’s opinions, at least provide some additional food for thought to the dialogue.

  • Em on 03.10.2015 at 10:11 am

    Job choices? Did the writer ever consider why the care of our elders is valued at a poverty wage, whilst lifting heavy boxes in a warehouse garners at least twice the pay? Our value system is misguided, the numbers only prove that. The fact that I make less than my male peers despite equal qualifications is adding insult to injury.

  • Kymbeerly Irizarry on 03.10.2015 at 10:14 am

    I’ll admit, when I first saw the headline of this article, I was taken aback. However, I wanted to read it through and give Professor Kahn’s article some thought, before I formulated a response. Therefore it is after some research that I say this: really?
    I found that there was a discrepancy in this article regarding its statistic of 92 cents to a dollar in comparison to many other sources. For someone who says to be critical of stats, it seems you didn’t follow your own advice.
    After doing some research, it’s actually quite lower. For example, on a state level, in Louisiana a woman is paid 66% of what a man is paid. Nationally, a woman may earn 90% of what a man makes (depending her race and what state she is in) until the age of 35, but then that number decreases with age putting her into the 75% of what a man makes.
    Also, just touching on the differences in the wage gap regarding race,
    “Asian women show the smallest gender pay gap at 90% of white men’s earnings
    African American women were paid 64% of white men’s earnings
    Hispanic women were paid 54% of white men’s earnings”
    (All this information is from Spring 2015)

    Professor Kahn, you didn’t talk about the wage gap, you talked about the grievances you had on the topic of the wage gap. As a professor, I would hope you would put more thought and research into an article that is published to adhere to a university who’s biggest population is women. We care about what is written about us and what information is distributed as it directly IMPACTS us. By lacking in information and depth, you have not only let us down, but you’ve let yourself down. I know that as a professor at Boston University you must be an incredibly intelligent and talented woman as it is not easy, judging by the male to female ratio teachers on campus. An article like this is beneath you.

    However, I thank you for bringing your opinion to the table as it seems that’s this topic has sparked conversation between faculty on campus.

    For these stats, or more information check aauw.org (nonprofit that focuses on this issue)
    Also for a more detailed report with the disparities in wage for every state from 2014 go to this website:

  • john on 03.12.2015 at 3:24 pm

    There’s no such thing as pay inequality, it’s simply a tool to funnel peoples money to the top for massive multi billion dollar agencies. This is what happens when women are coddled their entire lives. If you’ve ever watched even young boys at play, everything is a competition, from jokes and jibes, throwing a stick is a massive competition, there’s a sort of friendly one-upmanship in everything boys/men do their entire lives. Women/girls never do this amongst themselves, so by the time they’re 25 years old no one has ever so much as told them no let alone competed in anything. Suddenly, when the woman who got an “A” for showing a crushed can of soda as some sort example of women’s eternal oppression has to compete in the real world for a position of employment, she gets stomped. All these women complaining about some horrible oppression all come from Harvard, Stanford and Yale, The average man would have to work for 100 years to save enough excess money to afford even one year at these prestigious nursery schools.

  • Elizabeth on 03.14.2015 at 3:06 pm

    As a BU prof, I am embarrassed by this article and by the author’s other related publications on the topic (e.g. her NYT editorial, etc.). The author writes as if she is asking new and provocative questions about the wage gap, but overlooks a slew of research that empirically answers many of the questions that she poses as somehow new and of her own origination and omits scholarship that disproves many of the “explanations” that she posits as accounting for the wage gap. I am not sure how much she actually knows about this topic. For one, as others have noted already, women’s choices matter less than she argues for explaining the wage gap. We know that women and men straight out of college entering the same job get paid very differently by employers. Of course, we could see this as the result of yet another of women’s “poor” decisions — their lack of bargaining, but that can’t account for the result of audit studies, which show that when researchers send otherwise identical (fictional) resumes to employers and only change the names to indicate differences in gender and race/ethnicity, employers respond at far higher rates to white males than any other group. Everything else being equal, men are seen as better employees than women based solely on their gender, which has little to do with the choices made by women. And the author omits from her range of potential explanations for the wage gap the fact that employers systematically pay less for the type of work that is typically done by women. So a woman who chooses to go into nursing or education with a BA will be paid far less than an equivalent type of job available to a post-grad that is typically dominated by men. Clearly, employers and society more broadly devalue the work of women — (which is not to say that the work of other social groups is also not systematically under-valued as well) — and to suggest that we need to understand the choices of women to address the problem is nonsense. Further, I take issue with her statement that women (or all those interested in equality) should be content with a wage gap of 92 cents for every dollar earned by men. Sure, a difference of 8 cents/hour sounds minimal but over the course of a person’s career, that minor difference adds up. One recent study found that a woman with a college degree or higher (where wage differentials between genders are the least) will lose $713,000 over a 40-year period as compared to a similarly educated male.

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