The most basic way to look at differences in pay between the genders is to look at the median wages of men and women. However, this comparison is of limited usefulness because men and women exhibit very different characteristics for many of the factors that affect pay. For example, men tend to choose fields with higher average pay, and tend to work more hours per week.
Because of these differences in order to determine what effect discrimination has upon the wages of men and women in the workplace the differences in career choices must be accounted for. The raw median wages of men and women are often used in misleading ways to inform public policy, without explaining the reasons behind the gap.
A study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor, concluded that "There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4 percent, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent
." The study also concluded that while in principal more of the wage gap could be explained by differences between the groups, the data that would be needed to account for additional factors were not available.
While the conclusions of the study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor regarding the adjusted wage gap are generally in agreement with other research, there is disagreement on what factors explain the remaining 5–7%. Some studies assert that the remaining gap is due to discrimination, while some others, such as the Department of Labor study above conclude otherwise. Many researchers also believe that the differences between the choices men and women make are actually a result of discrimination or social pressures, with women being discouraged from high paying fields, and men being discouraged from making choices such as prioritizing job satisfaction over pay.
It is, however, impossible to attribute the disparity to gender alone. Things like seniority, education, overtime, sick days, and how often raises are asked for all impact the statistic. Even height and which hand is dominant correlate with earning power.