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'Women Make 60 Percent Less' Statistic Is Troubling When Used As 'Fact'

(KCBS) -- Once a soundbite or buzz phrase escapes into the wild, it's pretty tough to shove it back into its cage.

Latest example: "Silicon Valley men with a bachelor's degree earn 60% more than women with the same degree."

The "fact" comes from the annual report of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which analyzed Commerce Department data, and it continues to generate controversy. Hillary Clinton trotted it out again during an appearance at a Silicon Valley conference for women.

Here's the problem: it may be strictly true, while also missing a much bigger point. It doesn't take much digging to uncover this simple fact: all bachelor's degrees are not created alike. A BA in Liberal Studies has far less marketplace value than a BS in Computer Science or Electrical Engineering, and THOSE degrees are much more likely to be held by men.

I'm not here to pass moral judgment on this; it's a simple marketplace issue. Employers value those CS and EE degrees far more than they value a degree in History or Women's Studies or Communications. The bigger question (and a lot harder to answer) is why women remain so underrepresented in the so-called STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and math).

The "women make 60% less than men" factoid isn't evidence of sexism in the Silicon Valley workplace (though it's certainly fair to discuss the role of gender in the Silicon Valley culture) . It's the inescapable outcome of a much more complicated reality: girls and young women aren't swarming into those STEM programs.

By the way, the same Joint Venture Silicon Valley report that generated the "60% less" soundbite contains another sobering set of stats: even in the booming Silicon Valley, the value of a college degree or graduate degree has declined, in inflation-adjusted dollars, since 2006. In other words, no matter your gender or ethnicity, your college degree is generating a smaller paycheck than it did ten years ago.

You'd think THAT fact would be generating at least as much interest as the 60% story.

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