I reported last week that there is a gender pay gap at the White House, based on an analysis of White House salaries for 2014. That analysis revealed that the median pay for female staffers at the White House is $65,650 compared to the median pay for men of $75,750, resulting in a 13.3% gender pay disparity. How can we explain the fact that women working at Obama’s White House earn only 86.7 cents on average for every $1 earned by men? Discrimination? Probably not. More likely explanations include factors that result in a national gender wage gap, currently at 19.1% according to the most recent BLS data — factors like age, continuous work experience, marital status and children.
The chart above might help to explain the 13.3% gender pay disparity at the White House (WH), by showing the female/male percentages of workers for three salary ranges: a) $42,000 to $85,300, b) $85,300 to $128,600 and c) $128,600 to $172,000. Each of those three individual salary ranges are about $43,000 from minimum to maximum, and the three ranges together cover the overall WH salary range of $130,200, from a minimum of $42,000 to a maximum of $172,200. Here are some facts:
1. In the lowest salary range of $42,000 to $85,300, female staffers are over-represented by headcount, representing almost 54% of the WH employees in that group. Among those lower-paid WH employees, average salaries for women ($55,552) are almost exactly equal to salaries for men of $55,756. Given the fact that women now earn more than 56% of bachelor’s degrees, and assuming most WH staffers have college degrees, it makes sense that women outnumber men at the White House for the more entry-level, lower-paid positions.
2. For the mid-level salary range of $85,300 to $128,600, women (55) and men (53) are almost equally represented by headcount, but men in that group have a slightly higher average salary of almost $107,000 compared to the average salary of $102,537 for their female counterparts. The higher average salary for men in that salary range can be explained by the fact that men outnumber women for salaries of $100,00 and above (up to $128,600) by 39 to 32, and men outnumber women by 11 to 7 for salaries of $120,000 and above (up to $128,600).
3. For the highest salary range of $128,600 to $172,200, we find that male staffers are far overrepresented (47 headcount and almost two-thirds of the total) compared to female staffers, who represent only about one-third of the WH employees in that highest salary range.
4. Another comparison, not shown in the chart, is that for WH staffers earning $100,000 or more, men outnumber women by 86 to 60, and represent 59% of employees in that salary category.
MP: So here’s an economic explanation for the 13.3% gender pay disparity at the White House. In the Washington, D.C. labor market, there are far more men than women who have the necessary qualifications to be hired for high-paying, senior staff level positions. And what are some of those qualifications? Probably 20 or more years of continuous work experience in government, public policy, or legal services, and the willingness and ability to work 50-60 hour weeks. While there are equal numbers of men and women qualified to work at the WH for the lower-level or mid-level positions, there are fewer men than women available for the higher-level positions. The WH staffers in lower-paid positions probably tend to be young and single with limited experience, while the staffers at the higher-level positions tend to be older, more experienced, and married, many with children.
In other words, part of the 13.3% WH gender pay disparity can be explained by age, continuous work experience, hours worked, marital status and number of children, the same factors that can help explain the 19.1% gender pay gap nationally. For example, the BLS data show that young women 25-34 years old earn on average 90.2% of their male counterparts, and women who have never married earn almost 96% of their male counterparts. In contrast, women who are married earn only 76.6% of what married men earn.
Bottom Line: The 13.3% gender pay gap at the White House isn’t a result of gender discrimination. It’s more likely the result of the voluntary choices of women, many of who marry and have children as they get older, which makes them less available for senior WH positions that require decades of uninterrupted work experience and long work hours. For example, one study of MBA graduates of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found no gender difference in hours worked or incomes for recent MBA graduates. But significant gender pay gaps were found after longer periods of time, due to gender differences in career interruptions and increasing gender differences over time in hours worked following graduation.
From the paper (“Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Financial and Corporate Sectors“):
Differential changes by sex in labor market activity in the period surrounding a first birth play a key role in this process. The presence of children is associated with less accumulated job experience, more career interruptions, shorter work hours, and substantial earnings declines for female but not for male MBAs.
Although President Obama’s rhetoric would have us believe that the 19.1% gender pay gap is the result of gender discrimination, which can only be corrected by legislation and executive orders, the 13.3% pay gap at his own White House suggests that factors besides gender discrimination can explain gender pay gaps – like motherhood and marriage. A salary analysis of most organizations like Target, Costco, Ford and Google would likely find a gender pay gap similar to the one at the White House. And those gender pay gaps could likely be mostly, if not completely, explained by the same factors that explain Obama’s 13.3% gender pay disparity.