Sociology is one of many social sciences. Like practitioners of other sciences, sociologists collect and analyze data in order to describe conditions in their field and to explain the how and why trends and data are the way they are. One of the areas of interest for sociologists are prominent compensation gaps, and one of the most controversial gaps is the difference in pay for males and females.

The Pay Gap

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has studied, and been involved in trying to close, the pay gap between men and women. In their most recent report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, the AAUW calculates that, as of 2014, women earned about 79% (the earnings ratio) of what men earned overall, leaving a 21% gap between them. This is a great deal more, in comparison, than the 59% they earned in 1974, but it still represents a big gap between the sexes when it comes to income.

Data for the AAUW study comes from the federal government, particularly the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The AAUW calculates the pay gap using the median income figures provided by the Census Bureau. Here are how the earnings ratio and pay gap are calculated using the 2014 figures:

Additional analyses were done on subsets of the data to determine where bigger or smaller gaps exist. Such information helps sociologists determine causes of the pay gap, which can help community leaders and action groups, such as AAUW, and politicians in trying to close the gaps. For example, when analyzed by state, the data show that gaps of under 15% exist in six states (e.g., New York, Hawaii and North Carolina) and the District of Columbia (which has the smallest gap at 10%). Gaps of 25% or more exist in 11 states, with Utah (33%) and Louisiana (35%) having the largest gaps. With this information, sociologists, economists and activists can study the differences among states to see if what is being done in small-gap states can be replicated in large-gap states to try to reduce the gap.

Specifics of the Gender Pay Gap

Other analyses of wage-earning data show that in most occupations the wage gap clearly surfaces. For example, a study by the Institute for Women’s Research found that women were paid less than men in almost all occupations, including those dominated by women. For example, in the most highly women dominated occupation category, secretaries and administrative assistants, women account for 96% of all workers, yet men earn 14% more than women. The gap is higher in male-dominated jobs, such as the category called “drivers/sales workers and truck drivers.” Women make up only 4.2% of those employed in this category, and there is a pay gap of 28.2% between men and women.

Gaps in pay between men and women based on ethnicity, however, are not as pronounced as those in the general population. The AAUW study, for example, found that the pay gap was between 10% and 15% for a number of different ethnic groups (for instance, among African-American workers, the gap was 10%). The widest gaps were between White men and women and between Asian men and women. It should be noted that the study results also show that White and Asian people, overall, earn more than the other categories of workers.

Another analysis in the AAUW study showed that there is a clear pattern in wage earnings by age. For younger workers, up until about age 35, the pay gap is around 10%. But during the prime earning years of 35 to 65, the gap is in the 23% range. It drops a bit, but is still above 20% after age 65.

Learn More

If you are interested in learning more about how data analysis can help explain and affect sociological trends, learn more about degrees in these fields.