Both women and men lie about women's earnings, new census report finds

The misreporting happens in households where the woman earns more than the man.

July 18, 2018, 4:19 AM

Not only do most women make 80 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, new research from the Census Bureau also shows that both women and men lie about how much women actually get paid.

A new report that compares census data to tax forms shows that in heterosexual married couples where the wife earns more than the husband, both husbands and wives tend to report that the man earns more than the wife.

The research examined the results of the self-reported household earnings that the Census Bureau collected and compared those to those individuals' respective tax data, which includes their employers' reporting of their earnings.

The report found that, on average, in households where the wife earned more than the husband, the reports to the Census Bureau showed that women either docked their own pay when they reported it or their husband docked their wife's pay in their own reporting. Both men and women also increased the man's reported pay if the wife earned more.

"The fact of the matter is both husbands and wives do this. It's not a phenomenon that is specific to one spouse or the other," the report's co-author, Misty Heggeness, a senior adviser in the Census Bureau’s research department, told ABC News.

A woman filling out paperwork in this undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The report, titled "Manning up and womaning down: How husbands and wives report their earnings when she earns more," states that if the husband was the one who responded to the Census Bureau request to report individual earnings in the household, the men would inflate their own pay by, on average, 2.9 percent. By contrast, women would deflate their pay by about 1.5 percent.

In a blog post about the report on the Census Bureau's website, Heggeness wrote that if in a case of a couple in North Dakota, where the wife earned $40,000 to the husband's $30,000, the wife would typically say she earned $39,400 and the husband would report being paid $30,870.

According to the report, the changes come when a couple "violate[s] the norm that husbands out-earn their wives," and the couples "appear to minimize the violation by inflating the earnings of the lower-earning husbands and deflating the earnings of the higher-earning wives."

Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization of Women, said that she is "not surprised" by the findings, but "it makes me sad."

"Women have been taught all of their life that they have to take a step back when it comes to men, that men have fragile egos and to keep peace in their families they have to make themselves appear lesser than they really are," Van Pelt told ABC News.

"Women have got to start stepping up and putting themselves first -- that's what's most important," she added. "They have to be healthy, physically and mentally, so that they can advance and take care of their families, and this is one way that they can do that, by being able to tell the truth about who they really are and what they earn."