The 60 percent pay gap in Silicon Valley

Hillary Rodham Clinton by Frank Plitt 400x400“One recent report on the gender pay gap in the Valley found that a woman with a bachelor’s degree here tends to make 60 percent less than a man with the same degree.”

—Hillary Rodham Clinton, Feb. 24, 2015



Clinton used the wrong percentage.

The Facts

Former Secretary of State and likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave a speech to a women’s conference in Santa Clara, California on Feb. 24, 2015. In her speech, she emphasized a gender pay gap specific to Silicon Valley (bold emphasis added):

On the Forbes list of the top 100 venture investors in tech, only four are women. Just 11 percent of executives in Silicon Valley, and only about 20 percent of software developers overall are women.

One recent report on the gender pay gap in the Valley found that a woman with a bachelor’s degree here tends to make 60 percent less than a man with the same degree.

And we can literally count on one hand the number of women who have actually been able to come here and turn their dream into billion dollar businesses.


We’ll look at what Clinton meant and whether the figure she used was right.

Analyzing the Rhetoric

Though Democrats often use the “gender pay gap” to refer to a gap caused by gender discrimination, we find little evidence Clinton does so in this case. The context shows Clinton refers primarily to the way career decisions leave women with bachelor’s degrees working at lower paying professions than men. In Silicon Valley the concentration of male-dominated technology jobs accentuates the raw gender pay gap. Most of the raw gap stems from choices of career and parenting, with women tending to choose lower-paying careers or leave the work force to focus on parenting.

Though later in her speech Clinton appears to suggest insulating women from the career-damaging effects to taking maternity leave, we’ll keep our focus on the raw wage gap Clinton references.

The report Clinton cited was produced by Joint Venture, a public-private partnership, and looked at Silicon Valley’s economy. The section examining the gender wage gap was short (bold emphasis added):

(A)t each educational attainment level, women in Silicon Valley tend to earn less than men. For those with a bachelor’s degree in 2013 (220,000 men and 250,000 women), individual median income for men was 61% higher than for women (compared to 20% in San Francisco, 41% in California and 48% in the United States). At the graduate or professional degree level (205,000 men and 168,000 women), men earned 52% more than their female peers (compared to 42% in San Francisco, 47% in California and 49% in the United States). This gender income gap in Silicon Valley is getting larger over time across nearly all levels of educational attainment. For example, the gender income gap for Silicon Valley residents with a bachelor’s degree increased by over $5,000 between 2012 and 2013, from a difference of $29,090 between male and female median incomes to a difference of $34,233.



From the report we can confirm that when Clinton says “the same degree” she’s talking about a bachelor’s degree, regardless of major. We also note a key difference between the report’s findings and Clinton’s description. The report says men with bachelor’s degrees earned 61 percent more than women with bachelor’s degrees in 2013. Clinton said women with bachelor’s degrees earn 60 percent less than men with bachelor’s degrees.

It makes a difference to the math which gender we’re comparing with the other.Joint Venture bachelor degrees and gender 2013

Suppose the median Silicon Valley male makes $34,233 more than the media Silicon Valley female, as the report says. We can use that figure to estimate the median figures, $56,120 for females and $90,353 for males. To calculate how much more men make than women, we take the difference, $34,233, and divide it by the mean income figure for women, $56,120. That gives us about 61 percent. But we need a different equation to find out how much less women make than men by percentage. To calculate that figure we use the difference, $34,233, and divide it by the mean income figure for men, $90,353. For that equation we get about 38 percent. So the median Silicon Valley female with a bachelor’s degree makes 38 percent less than the median Silicon Valley male with a bachelor’s degree.

Clinton, then, exaggerated the percentage of the gap she mentioned by about 58 percent. It’s also clear that her speech focused on the largest disparity in the gender wage gap data.


Hillary Clinton’s reference to Silicon Valley’s gender wage gap avoids any overt attempt to assert gender bias as the cause, but her speech applies the 60 percent gap to the wrong relationship between median income for males and females with bachelor’s degrees. The median male makes about 60 percent more than the median female, but that doesn’t mean the median female makes 60 percent less than the median male. The median female makes about 38 percent less.

“One recent report on the gender pay gap in the Valley found that a woman with a bachelor’s degree here tends to make 60 percent less than a man with the same degree.”

False statement icon

Make that “38 percent.”

News Notes

News outlets reporting on Clinton’s speech appeared not to note any fault with her numbers. Examples include the Huffington Post,, and the Chronicle.



Marinucci, Carla. “Clinton Takes on Gender and Pay Gap for Women in Silicon Valley.” SFGate. Hearst Corporation, 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Respaut, Robin. “Hillary Clinton Highlights Gender Pay Gap Ahead of Likely Presidential Bid.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Clinton, Hillary. “Watermark’s Silicon Valley Conference for Women.” Watermark, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

2015 Silicon Valley Index.” Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

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