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How the Wage Gap Still Matters

The wage gap is a conversation that has been heavily discussed by economists, think tanks, and feminists at least since the 1890s. They were salient issues during the women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s and proven to still be relevant today, as more women have steadily been joining the work force since a century ago. When Jennifer Lawrence’s essay on the wage gap was posted October 13th and since has been reposted and circulated through social media, conversations have yet again started, ranging from the validity to the statistic to Jennifer Lawrence’s privileged perspective on the topic.

Many people who believe the gender wage gap doesn’t exist argue that women work different jobs than men, have different educational levels, work different hours. However, according to a 2014 report examining the median weekly earnings of workers by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, even controlling these factors, the gender wage gap still exists in every single field. It is also worth noting that these statistics only focus on men and women and do not include gender non-conforming individuals and that statistics on married couples only focus on heterosexual couples.

Many people who have criticized Lawrence’s perspective on the topic do so because her paycheck is so vastly different from the typical person that her speaking out displays more of an ignorance and greediness. Her essay may only be a reflection of her experiences to better her own paycheck, not address the larger issue of systematic intersectional discrimination for women of color. While she may have the least to complain about in terms of monetary compensation, Lawrence makes a valid point of how the way society expects women to act can insidiously affect their paycheck and job prospects. For example, women are told from birth that there are specific talents and preferences girls are supposed to have. They are expected to stay at home and do more than fifty percent of household work and raising children.  This prohibits women from the highest paying jobs where 24/7 availability is required. In addition, girls have an expectation to be obedient and passive. Women are often seen as more aggressive and pushy when assertive, while men are praised to be courageous in taking charge. These little things affect salary negotiations. There are studies shown that replacing a man’s name with a woman’s name on a resume reduces the salary offered and lowers the employers’ opinion of the candidate’s experience. These preconceptions and expectations affect the work that women go into and the possibilities of climbing the corporate ladder. And these are very real problems for women that men don’t commonly experience.

What’s often skirted in this conversation also is how race plays into this gender wage gap. When the statistics are broken down by race, men are suffering as well. For example, Latino men make 90% of what white men make, and Latina women make 54% of what white men make. Black women earn 91% of what black men earn and 64% of what white men earn. Asian-American women earn only 79% of what Asian-American men make but 90% of what white men earn. This data is from median annual earnings of full-time, year-round workers. While we may not know why these numbers exist, be it due to different occupations and different educational levels, the comparisons are made in a way to minimize these impacts.  We compare median earnings so higher incomes don’t skew the data. Comparing full-time, year-round workers that are expected to work the same hours during the same time period makes it easier to conclude that differences between men’s earnings and women’s earnings are less about different occupations or working hours.

While Jennifer Lawrence and I have scraped the surface of the root of this problem, it’s important to keep the conversation going and to keep the general public aware, even if skeptical of the statistic. While this statistic is thrown around, sometimes carelessly, and in no way represents every woman and man’s experience with the wage gap, the statistic still exists and the wage gap persists. While it is true we have made strides in evening out the demographics of men and women in the notoriously disparate fields such as STEM fields, more progress can be made to even out the wage gap. This statistic isn’t as important because of the shock factor it used to contain; it matters because it reflects our history of discrimination in the workforce and it has shown the progress we have made in the last fifty years. It’s proof that more research can be done to understanding what’s going on and how men and women can combat it together.

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