As I mentioned in my last post, there are a whole host of considerations to take into account when looking at men’s and women’s wages to investigate any gender-based differences. Sheer earnings numbers are meaningful—after all, a difference in earnings, no matter why it exists, means a difference in what men and women are able to afford to buy. However, when stated without context, these numbers invite debate. In order to gain a more thorough understanding of the difference between men’s and women’s earnings, one reasonable starting point is to control for those things that are widely understood to determine salaries, such as education level, industry of employment, or years of experience.Studies that carefully examine job-related skill-based differences in earnings are not uncommon and are usually called human capital-based studies. Over the last several months, I’ve come across two of particular interest to me: a study conducted for the benefit of university administration at the University of Virginia, and a research letter regarding registered nurse salaries published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These studies share the goal of describing men’s and women’s earnings while controlling for very specific wage determinants. Each shows a significant difference between men’s and women’s earnings, even after important characteristics have been held constant. Neither definitively states the precise cause of the difference, yet each advances our understanding about the wage gap.
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