The 77% Lie: Just Because a False Statistic Is Useful and Traditional Doesn’t Make It Less Unethical To Keep Using It.

Sure, lie to us, Mr. President. As long as its for a good cause.

In 2000, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw used the statistic that “women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar men receive for the same work” in a question to Joe Lieberman during the Vice Presidential candidates debate, prompting me to turn or the TV and write a letter to CNN. The statistic had long been debunked as misleading and inaccurate for years by every objective observer who examined it. The unspoken assumption that figure is meant to convey is that this supposed gap reflects sexism in the workplace. It dates from the early days of NOW and the feminist push for the Equal Rights Amendment, an activist-concocted lie, like many of the global warming “facts” mouthed by Al Gore, designed to simplify a complex phenomenon into something unequivocally persuasive. For Shaw, a journalist, to repeat a false and misleading statistic as fact in a nationally televised debate was inexcusable, and irresponsible journalism.

Did I mention that this was in 2000?

The 77% stat is one of my two pet fake statistics (the other being the statement that 50% of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, used by culture warriors on both the left and right), and I have vowed not to let either pass without a red flag until I either drop dead or people stop lying. So I don’t care to hear, thank you, about how I’m picking on the President Obama when Mitt Romney has been using some misleading facts too. I know he has. But when a President of the United States whose supporters laud as a genius and scholar, and who pledged not to mislead the American people promotes his campaign with a widely publicized statistic that he has to know misinforms the public, I believe that’s alarming, insulting, and infuriating.  The fact that Democrats and feminists have been using the same lie for over three decades doesn’t make it less offensive, but more.

Of the recent Obama campaign spot—“approved by ” the President– use of the statement that women are “paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men”, the non-partisan (and they really are non-partisan, unlike other organizations that claim that mantle, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or Politifact) minces no words:

“That’s not true. The ad falsely states that the pay gap is for doing “the same work.” It also implies that discrimination by employers is responsible for the difference. That’s an exaggeration.”

And this should hardly be a revelation, since everything FactCheck says has been a matter of record for decades. You can read it yourself here. Then ask yourself, and explain to me, why the public should trust any argument or statistical claim put forth by a leaders, candidate or organization that uses a figure as intentionally misleading as this one. Ask yourself what kind of respect this conduct shows for the American people, and the mission of an informed democracy. If a leader or candidate wants to make an argument for the wisdom of new legislation, wonderful: make it fairly, explaining the issue without deceptive manipulation of the facts. Otherwise, I have to assume, as do you, that this is not an effort to make a persuasive argument at all, but an effort to willfully deceive, while attracting the favor and support of the political constituency that perpetuates the falsehood.



Graphic: Arizonomics

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at




19 thoughts on “The 77% Lie: Just Because a False Statistic Is Useful and Traditional Doesn’t Make It Less Unethical To Keep Using It.

  1. I have long suspected that most current pay differential is a result of the “mommy gap.” It will be interesting to compare figures in another 20 or 30 years after today’s women have re-entered the workforce and retired later than their male colleagues.

    • I always assumed that as well. Deborah. It was also true that in earlier days, it was assumed that women would marry and leave the workforce for household and child rearing duties, with the husband as sole support- permanently. Thus, the husband’s position as family breadwinner and as a career man with his company was more important.

  2. Well, a pay gap would explain why, in the last recession, men lost twice as many jobs as women.

    “Over the course of the official recession, men lost twice as many jobs as women,” says Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. She attributes this to the hammering that the male-dominated construction and manufacturing sectors took in the economic meltdown.

  3. The 77% figure was arrived at by averaging all male and all female work/salaries. Because women choose part time work more often than men, women’s average pay may be lower, but that’s not a fair calculation. Comparing job to job, women make 98% of what men make, and the difference is still because of women’s choices to work shorter hours and take more vacation. How can people believe that women are automatically paid 23% less? Minimum wages are determined by law, do they really think that a man working at McDonald’s gets $7.65 and hour, but his female co-worker gets $5.35? Really? As if that would fly…’s dodgy math, like that figure of $135,000 being the salary that stay at home mothers would earn were they paid. Embarrassingly biased, wrong-headed math. But it serves the purpose to getting people who don’t think for themselves riled up so it must be Ok!

    • The 77% figure was arrived at by averaging all male and all female work/salaries. Because women choose part time work more often than men, women’s average pay may be lower, but that’s not a fair calculation.

      Citation needed.

      Comparing job to job, women make 98% of what men make, and the difference is still because of women’s choices to work shorter hours and take more vacation.

      Citation needed.

      How can people believe that women are automatically paid 23% less? Minimum wages are determined by law, do they really think that a man working at McDonald’s gets $7.65 and hour, but his female co-worker gets $5.35?

      The 77% statistic does not actually say that. If I say that men are 5 inches taller than women, that doesn’t mean that each man is 5 inches taller than 5 women.


      In case it isn’t clear, nothing in my post should be construed to back the 77% statistic. I am just attacking bad arguments.

  4. I’m sorry that I can’t give you a citation for 10 years of reading. Warren Farrel’s book on the wage gap, which got me searching through government statistics for average hours worked per profession for each sex for a number of different jobs, posted salary listings, I read tons and tons of things…I’ve dug and dug and dug on this issue. There’s no one neat citation I can give you for this…

    Be it childcare or elder care, women at times work years less than men…and return to the job market with huge gaps. I quit my job 10 years ago when FIL went into the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and didn’t go back as MIL started with symptoms 8 months after he passed (she’s in Stage 6 now). If I went back to my former work I wouldn’t make as much as those who stayed all those years, but that’s the way it is. I now do translations freelance, which allows me to work around MILs needs. It’s one factor in women’s lower lifetime earnings, but of course not the only one.

    • If the study just averaged all wages, that should be pretty easy to find. You also use a 98% number. I’m sorry, but no rational person should take you on your word that you accurately came to that number over 10 years of various readings. Your methodology is incredibly suspect and you haven’t shown your work. You may be the most honest person in the world with a savant-like memory and ability with statistics, but that seems like a ridiculous think for me to posit.

      • Don’t, that’s perfectly ok 🙂 My ‘methodology’ is just that I’m a voracious reader and I remember a great deal of what I’ve read. I don’t just write anything that pops into my head 🙂 It was on a site that compared salaries for professionals (doctors, lawyers) where the gap was said to be 98% (a woman who’d gone through med school is more than likely to keep working, after all they’ve put into it, and perhaps office workers don’t) but hourly wage jobs don’t have much of a gap, either.

        I don’t have a savant-like ability with statistics but I just retain almost all of what I read…it doesn’t , unfortunately,mean that I remember where I got it from….I wish I bookmarked everything, it would be easier to pull things up. If I have a question about something it’s not unusual for me to look at 20-30 sites. I have/had no intention of deceiving you for any reason.

      • Here is an article stating that even the choices female physicians make affect their salaries–

        “When these kinds of factors were taken into account, the researchers found no difference between starting salaries for male and female doctors in 1999(my emphasis). But when they looked at data from 2008, there was a $16,819 gap.

        What’s going on?

        Could the pay differential reflect the fact that more men have been in the profession longer and thus have more seniority, on average, than women? No, because the researchers limited their analysis to doctors who had just finished their residency or fellowship training and were about to start their first real jobs. (The data came from 8,233 young physicians who completed their training between 1999 and 2008 in New York state, home to more residents and fellows than any other state.)

        Could the pay gap reflect the fact that women choose lower-paying specialties than men? No, because the statistical analysis controlled for that. Besides, the researchers said, over the course of the study the proportion of women choosing primary care positions fell from 49% in 1999 to 34% in 2008, at which point it was roughly equal to that of men. In any event, the data revealed a gender pay gap in almost every specialty. (One exception was general surgery — the average starting salary for women was $196,721, nearly $11,000 higher than the $185,881 earned by men.)

        Could the difference reflect a bias in favor of male doctors? Unlikely, according to the researchers — once the pay gap had disappeared in the late 1990s, there’s little reason to think it would return a decade later.

        The answer, they speculate, is that women are choosing lower-paying jobs on purpose because they offer greater flexibility in hours and are generally more family-friendly. The researchers acknowledge they don’t have the data to prove that this is the case, but the data they do have is consistent with this theory.

        If so, they say, that would be a victory for women (and even men.) Studies show that many doctors are burned out and would rather take jobs that allow them to have a good quality of life. Now — thanks in large part to the growing ranks of female doctors — such jobs are available. They just come with lower salaries.”

        The pay rates for physicians are the same regardless of sex. It’s the choices that are made that affect the bottom line. If you compare doctor vs. doctor, hamburger flipper vs. hamburger flipper, the gap is a lot smaller than 23 cents in the dollar. Again, I’m really sorry that I don’t have the original sources with which I formed my opinions, I have bookmarks in the hundreds and when I don’t use them for a few months I deep-six them.

        Which companies in America have different starting salaries for men and women?

        • Without a link, there’s no way to check that out. The nbc/breitbart thread had multiple quotes that, when the original source was looked at, did not actually support the poster’s position.

      • “Fact: The 75 cent figure is terribly misleading. This statistic is a snapshot of all current full-time workers. It does not consider relevant factors like length of time in the workplace, education, occupation, and number of hours
        worked per week. (The experience gap is particularly large between older men and women in the workplace.) When economists do the proper controls, the so-called gender wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.
        (Essential reading: Women’s Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba, published by the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. 2000.)”

  5. Okay, so I paid attention this time when the ad was shown, To recap, the ad starts off with how women are paid 77 cents to the dollar compared to men, and it uses a citation from the US Census Bureau from September 13, 2011; and then they show President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29, 2009.

    I’m not trying to be facetious here but chronologically speaking, what is the ad trying to prove? What is the cause and effect? That as a result of the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009 (cause), women’s pay “rose” to 77 cents to the dollar by 2011 (effect)? Or that in the two years of the law’s existence (cause), their pay “sank” to 77 cents to the dollar (effect), which I seriously doubt. I don’t think you can have it both ways by saying 77 cents to the dollar in 2011 and that the President “helped” the situation out with signing the act 18 months earlier in 2009. Because if the claim was 77 cents in 2009 and was still 77 cents in 2011, then there was no effect on the cause; and then what are you touting, an ineffective law?

    My second question with it is why is the US Census Bureau’s statistic reliable? Wouldn’t a statistic like that have more credibility if it came from the Department of Labor? Isn’t that like looking in Baseball Almanac for the attendance of women at NFL football games?

    Please forgive me. I’m still bummed SCOTUS overturned the Stolen Valor Act.

  6. I’m shocked that you quote FactCheck as reliable and unbias. FactCheck is worse than the Soros financed Has it not come to your attention that FactCheck is financed by the Annenberg group. Remember the Annenberg Challenge back in Obama’s community organizing days together with his mentor and buddy, terrorist Bill Ayers, he co-chaired the Annenberg group. What happened to all the money that disappeared under Obama and Ayers. The project was never completed, the blds. are still delapidated and Annenberg is still under the covers with Obama.

    • Yes, you are insane. I have worked with the Annenberg foundation in the past, and yes, they have have a detectable liberal bias, and yes, they do an excellent job adjusting for it, most of the time. They are easily the most trustworthy of the Factcheck operations, as well the model.

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