Men in legal professions make almost twice as much as women, but. . .

I've written here several times about my opinions on the existence of a glass ceiling for women in America. In general, I don't believe that it exists any longer. Yes, it was once there. Yes, there still may be select occupations in which women of equal merit as men aren't promoted as quickly. Yes, there are cases of discrimination based on gender.

But the crux of my argument against the glass ceiling and earnings discrepancies between men and women is that the available studies don't compare the genders job-for-job. The studies look at the earnings of the genders overall, and come to the conclusion that men are paid more.

What they're not factoring in is that men often choose the types of jobs that pay more than the types of jobs women often choose. The studies also don't factor in the issue that women often take time off for childbearing, and are more likely to return to work on a less-than-full-time basis after children.
Don't get me wrong... I'm not criticizing those choices in the least. Motherhood might just be the most important job there ever was. I respect women who want to give their children more of their attention. But when that choice is made, it's not fair to blame "discrimination" for the wage discrepancies.

The U.S. Census Bureau
has now released figures that show men in legal professions make almost twice as much as women. That sounds shocking, but you have to remember that lower-paying positions like paralegals and legal assistants are overwhelmingly occupied by women.

We get closer to a valid comparison when analyzing the salaries of male attorneys versus female attorneys. The Census Bureau reports that female attorneys make 78% of what male attorneys make. That appears to indicate a pay discrepancy, but it's important to know that this study did not control for conditions such as length of time in the profession and number of hours worked.

There are simply more men who have been in the practice of law for a longer period of time, and so their salaries will naturally be higher. The study uses earnings of full-time workers, but it can be inferred that an attorney working 40 hours per week (considered full-time) will likely not earn as much as an attorney working 60 hours per week.

I don't deny that discrepancies in wages do happen. I do, however, disagree with drawing faulty conclusions from this data. It's easy to be aghast at the discrepancies between pay for men and women, but unless the underlying conditions are examined, an accurate conclusion really can't be drawn.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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