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No, Women Don’t Choose Lower-Paying Jobs, & Other Equal Pay Myths

It’s no secret that women are heavyweights in the job market. From influential celebrities like Beyoncé and Oprah to game-changers like Radia Perlman (who, if you didn’t know, had a role in making today’s internet possible), working women have been changing the world since the beginning of history.

But as long as women have been in the workforce, they have had to fight stereotypes and discrimination. These stereotypes, such as women being less independent and assertive as men, feed inequality in the workforce and play into women being seen as less competent than men. This is especially prominent in male-dominated fields like math or science. To make matters worse, this discrimination affects women’s income. Studies have proven that women earn less money while completing the same jobs as men, but there are still misconceptions about why the pay gap exists.  


Ein Beitrag geteilt von 4th MVMT (@4thmvmt) am

With International Women’s Day coming up, it’s a good time to give some respect to women and debunk a few of these wage gap myths while we’re at it. 

Myth: Women are paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs

Truth: Although it is true that women and men take up different careers, choice is not the issue when it comes to pay disparities. It is more to do with unconscious bias or automatic, learned stereotypes about certain groups. Instead of thinking of women as preferring lower-paying jobs, think about why women take these lower-paying positions. And there isn’t one particular answer to this. Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told TIME that “it isn’t choice. It’s constraints on choice.” Women are typically seen as being more competent in the arts and so, they are typically led to excel in certain subjects like English in their childhood. Boys are typically led to perform well in math and science, which are fields that tend to pay more.

In addition, society at a whole tends to devalue women’s work. When men choose the same lower-paying jobs as women, they make more money — this can be seen in careers like nursing or childcare. According to a 2017 Medspace report, male registered nurses made an annual average of about $84,000, compared to $80,000 for women. Even in the same field, women are making less, debunking this myth completely. 

Myth: Women have lower salaries because they don’t negotiate or aren’t assertive enough while negotiating

Truth: Women do negotiate; they just don’t receive the higher wages they request. A 2018 Harvard Business Review study found that when women asked for a raise, they only received it 15 percent of the time, while men received one 20 percent of the time. This may be because when women ask for a higher salary, they can be perceived as demanding. Some women may even be turned off from negotiating to avoid being seen unfavorably after doing so. In fact, actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay about not getting paid as much as male co-stars, saying she didn’t want to ask for a raise because she didn’t want to seen as difficult to work with.

Related: A New Study Says the Wage Gap Isn’t Caused By Women Not Asking For Raises

Myth: Women earn less because they take maternity leave

Truth: It is true that a woman’s income does tend to suffer when they begin to have children —a $16,000 annual loss in earnings on average, in fact. However, wage disparities in the workplace are present even before women begin to have children. Upon graduating college, women without children earn 93 percent of what their male peers do, even if they are working in the same fields. 

It is also true that mothers face limitations in the workplace, reflected in the term “motherhood penalty.” Employers tend to question a mother’s dedication to her work. Mothers are also viewed as more emotional and less capable than women without children, and are even judged for needing a flexible schedule. These factors can make it difficult for mothers to receive or keep jobs. 

Myth: Women get paid less because they are less educated than men

Truth: Since the 1980s, women have earned more college degrees than men. In fact, for the past 10 years, women have even earned more doctoral degrees than men. And, despite workers with a bachelor’s degree earning double the amount as compared to workers without a degree, the gap between men’s and women’s earning actually widens with more education

Myth: The wage gap is an exaggeration: It isn’t a significant problem and will disappear soon 

Truth: The wage gap continues to be a growing issue, and it isn’t estimated to go away until 2059 for white women. In 2019, women earned merely 79 cents for every dollar men made. And the circumstances are even worse for women of color. Hispanic women’s median weekly earnings in 2018 were only 61.6% of white men’s median weekly earnings, and the median weekly earnings of black women were only 65.3% of white men’s. Discussing the disparity in women of color’s wage gap needs to be included in the wage gap conversation — it is much more severe and will take even longer to close than for white women.  

Related: This is How Long It’ll Take to Close the Wage Gap

There is no easy fix for the wage gap, which is why it has remained an issue for so long. It’s going to take some serious culture and policy changes to get the job done. But let’s be hopeful that one day, women of all backgrounds will be paid fairly for the hard work they accomplish and that the wage gap will be history.   

Ri'An is a third-year student at Michigan State University majoring in Journalism with minors in Public Relations and Creative Writing. She loves writing and ties it to her passions in fashion, beauty, and wellness. Outside of writing for HerCampus, you can find Ri'An in a coffee shop reading her current favorite novel or Elle magzine.
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