The gap in wages between men and women has decreased sharply over the past 30 years, and a new UGA study reveals that decline was even greater than previously recognized.
The research, published in the March edition of the journal Social Science Research, is one of the first to take into account a common bias that the authors argue has skewed previous results: People (especially men) tend to inflate their incomes when surveyed. Conversely, both men and women tend to underestimate income when reporting on someone else’s behalf. According to the UGA researchers, these biases, combined with changes over time in the proportion of men and women who report their own earnings, have obscured the decline in the gender wage gap.
The traditional estimation method, in which data from self-reports of income are combined with so-called proxy reports from others without any adjustment, indicates that the wage gap closed by 16 percent from 1979 to 2009. After removing gender-specific reporting effects, the UGA researchers find that the gap closed by 22 percent over the same period—a difference of nearly 50 percent.
“It appears that the gender wage gap has closed more quickly over time and by a greater amount than previous estimates suggest,” said study co-author Jeremy Reynolds, an associate professor of sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Reynolds and study co-author Jeffrey Wenger, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, note that the wage gap was greatly underestimated in the 1980s, when most women self-reported and many men had spouses who reported on their behalf. In more recent years, when closer to half of men and women self-reported, estimates of the wage gap are likely to have been more accurate.
To be sure, the current gender wage gap—just over $6 per hour—is still significant. Still, Reynolds and Wenger’s research emphasizes that statistically controlling for how survey data is gathered is important for understanding earnings outcomes and other social behaviors.