This afternoon, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) will release its newest “research” report, Graduating with a Pay Gap. This report, according to the AAUW pre-publicity, is “an update of the 2007 AAUW report, Behind the Pay Gap, which found that just one year after college graduation, women are paid only 80 cents for every dollar men are paid.” Can the AAUW be trusted? Consider its record.
The 2007 report does give readers the impression that millennial women are facing serious workplace discrimination. But buried on page 18, we find this qualification: “After controlling for all the factors known to affect earnings, college-educated women earn about 5 percent less than college-educated men earn. Thus, while discrimination cannot be measured directly, it is reasonable to assume that this pay gap is the product of discrimination.” As Steve Chapman noted in Reason, “Another way to put it is that three-quarters of the gap clearly has innocent causes—and that we actually don’t know whether discrimination accounts for the rest.”
The AAUW was once a serious women’s organization. Since the early nineties, it has devolved into a hard-nosed, K Street-style special interest group that stops at nothing to defend its “women are victims” narrative. In 2008, Linda Hallman, the AAUW executive director, announced her organization’s determination to continue to “break through barriers” for women and girls – and not to allow “adversaries” to obstruct its mission:
Our adversaries know that AAUW is a force to be reckoned with, and that we have ‘staying power’ in our dedication to breaking through the barriers that we target. … We ARE Breaking through Barriers. We mean it; we’ve done it before; and we are ‘coming after them’ again and again and again, if we have to! All of us, all the time.”(AAUW emphasis)
It is hard to imagine such a warning coming from Brookings, AEI, or the Urban Institute — or indeed, any research center that warrants serious attention. Yet in the past, newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have presented AAUW research as if it were trustworthy. Linda Hallman has boasted in the AAUW newsletter that “The AAUW’s ability to capture media attention demonstrates the power and credibility of our message.” Not so. Capturing media attention and being credible are distinct phenomena. What it demonstrates is the AAUW’s preternatural ability to lobby, to network, and to spin.
It is possible we will all be pleasantly surprised and the new report will be different from the reckless advocacy research the group has sponsored in the past. The record suggests otherwise. Stay tuned.