The Truth: It's complicated. Some of those things do make a difference. But no matter how you crunch the numbers or spin the results, there is a persistent pay gap between men and women that can't be explained away by life choices or any of the other factors that MRAs and others suggest may "really" account for the differences.
You want the gory details? Check out these articles, studies and blog posts.
AAUW (American Association of University Women): The Gender Pay Gap
Women have made remarkable strides in education during the past three decades, but these gains have yet to translate into full equity in pay — even for college-educated women who work full time. A typical college-educated woman 25 years and older working full time earns $50,000 a year compared to $70,000 for college-educated male workers 25 years and older — a difference of $20,000! ...
For the entire full-time workforce, a typical woman earned $35,745 compared with $46,367 for a typical man, a pay difference of $10,622.
EXAMINING THE CRACKS IN THE CEILING: A SURVEY OF CORPORATE DIVERSITY PRACTICES OF THE S&P 100 (Calvert investments)
The "Glass Ceiling" is still a problem (emphasis added):
We remain disheartened by the glacial pace at which women and minorities are reaching the upper echelons of power. ... Of the 100 CEOs represented [in the S&P 100], 92 are Caucasian males. While women make up approximately 18% of director positions within the S&P 100, they represent only 8.4% of the highest paid positions within the same group of companies, positions that provide the opportunities to develop the expertise and networks needed for future board-level appointments.
Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men? by Laura Fitzpatrick (Time magazine)
U.S. women still earned only 77 cents on the male dollar in 2008, according to the latest census statistics. (That number drops to 68% for African-American women and 58% for Latinas.) ...
Once you control for factors like education and experience ... women's earnings rise to 81% of men's. Factor in occupation, industry and whether they belong to a union, and they jump to 91%. That's partly because women tend to cluster in lower-paying fields. ...
But industry doesn't tell the whole story. Women earned less than men in all 20 industries and 25 occupation groups surveyed by the Census Bureau in 2007 ... Female secretaries ... earn just 83.4% as much as male ones. And those who pick male-dominated fields earn less than men too: female truck drivers ... earn just 76.5% of the weekly pay of their male counterparts.
Women's Earnings: Work Patterns Partially Explain Difference between Men's and Women's Earnings (GAO report, 2003) (Emphasis added)
Of the many factors that account for differences in earnings between men and women, our model indicated that work patterns are key. Specifically, women have fewer years of work experience, work fewer hours per year, are less likely to work a full-time schedule, and leave the labor force for longer periods of time than men. Other factors that account for earnings differences include industry, occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure. When we account for differences between male and female work patterns as well as other key factors, women earned, on average, 80 percent of what men earned in 2000. While the difference fluctuated in each year we studied, there was a small but statistically significant decline in the earnings difference over the time period. Even after accounting for key factors that affect earnings, our model could not explain all of the difference in earnings between men and women. ... we cannot determine whether this remaining difference is due to discrimination or other factors that may affect earnings.
Blaming Women's Choices for the Gender Pay Gap, by Hilary M. Lips
The language attributing women’s lower pay to their own lifestyle choices is seductive—in an era when women are widely believed to have overcome the most serious forms of discrimination ... Women work in lower-paid occupations; on average they work fewer paid hours per week and fewer paid weeks per year than men do; their employment is more likely than men’s to be discontinuous. ...
However, a closer look reveals that the language of “choice” obscures larger social forces that maintain the wage gap and the very real constraints under which women labor. The impact of discrimination, far from being limited to the portion of the wage gap that cannot be accounted for by women’s choices, is actually deeply embedded in and constrains these choices.
The Gender Wage Gap: Debunking the Rationalizations, by Hilary M. Lips
Confronting the Gender Gap in Wages, by Deborah Kolb, Judith Williams, and Carol Frohlinger
Barry Deutsch at Alas, a blog has written a series of excellent posts analyzing various antifeminist pay gap myths. Let's take a look at some of the highlights:
Wage Gap Myth: The pay gap only exists because men work so many more hours than women.
[T]he argument is generally that the pay gap ... has nothing to do with discrimination. ... Women are paid less because they work so many fewer hours ...Myth: The pay gap only exists because women take time off from work to raise kids.
According to a [Department of Labor] web page in 2001 ... comparing only hourly wages, women were paid 83.2% of what men were paid in 2000. 83.2% is a noticible difference from the 76% figure for weekly full-time wages – but it still leaves the majority of the pay gap unaccounted for.
[T]he average female worker has 12.79 years of full-time experience, while the average male worker has 17.41. This difference accounted for between 26% and 30% of the total wage gap.Myth: The pay gap only exists because women haven’t been in the workplace as long as men
In this view, the pay gap is only still around because women only recently entered the workforce; as such, women haven’t had as much time to work their way up the employment ladder to the well-paid positions. ...
[E]xactly how long must we wait...? A woman who had been in the workforce five years when the Equal Pay Act was passed [in 1963] might well be retired by now, and the pay gap still hasn’t gone away.
Myth: The best way to measure the pay gap is to consider only the young and the childless
[T]he effects of discrimination add up over a lifetime. So, for example, losing a single job offer or promotion usually won’t make a big difference; but dozens of such small losses over the course of women’s careers eventually add up to a big wage gap.
Myth: If women really got paid less for similar work, then employers would replace all of the male workers with female workers
Some industries have, in effect, saved money by gradually replacing a male work force with a female work force. But there are many reasons employers might retain a male workforce, even though ... men are paid more on average.
Evidence of Discrimination
[E]xamples that clearly demonstrate that economic discrimination against women, contrary to the claims of the anti-feminists, is a real problem.
Myth: The Wage Gap is Caused by Men’s Higher Pay for Dangerous Jobs
It’s true that men are much more likely to die or to be injured on the job than women. Surely no one would be willing to risk their life without getting paid a premium for it; and no reasonable person would argue that extra pay for extra danger is unjust. ...
The problem is, there is no premium for dangerous jobs. And since the “danger premium” doesn’t really exist, it can’t explain the wage gap.
Myth: The CONSAD report clearly refutes the notion that there is pay discrimination
There are important kinds of direct employer discrimination which CONSAD’s methods cannot measure or disprove. For example, some employers are more likely to hire women to lower-paid positions and men to higher-paid positions. (Empirical testing – by sending male and female testers to apply for the same jobs — has proven that this sort of sexist occupational sorting sometimes happens.) ...
[P]robably the most important kind of sexism going into the wage gap is the sexism of unquestioned assumptions; unquestioned assumptions about who does the housework, unquestioned assumptions about who does the child-rearing, unquestioned assumptions about innate ability, and most of all, unquestioned assumptions about how jobs are designed for people with wives at home.
I call this last factor the “Father Knows Best” economy; most jobs implicitly assume that workers have wives at home who are taking care of the kids and house, so that these responsibilities never need to be accommodated by employers. Maybe that assumption made sense half a century ago, but it doesn’t make sense now; and by continuing to implicitly make this assumption, our economy is making it unfairly difficult for caretakers (who are usually women) to have careers.