The Wage Gap is Still A Wage Gap

On International Women’s Day, I logged onto Facebook and began scrolling through my News Feed. Most of the posts in my Feed on any given day are from the different news sites that I follow: The Atlantic, Vox.com, and The Economist had all published a number of articles about the wage gap. I was so excited. I love talking about the wage gap. I get really fired up. To be fair, I get really fired up about most things, but the wage gap has a special place in my heart.

Until I got to Kenyon, I had no idea that the existence of the wage gap was something that was contested, by both men and women. During my freshman year, I had a political science professor and an economics professor explain to me that there is no gender wage gap because a) $0.90 is basically $1, b) women have to leave the labor force to have children, and c) employers do not discriminate because that is inefficient.

So let’s break this down.

Is there a numerical wage gap?

Yes, there a gap between what women and men earn both as gender groups and as individuals in comparative jobs. Globally, women earn about 85% of what men do. That’s about $0.85 to the dollar. But female representation in high-ranking, well-paid jobs is around 33 percent. Now, these are international averages of all OECD countries (the Organization for Economic Cooperation is comprised of 34 democratic countries). The United States is well below the global average on both of these fronts. We rank 20th out of 29 countries. The statistic that gets tossed around the most is that women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man makes in the United States. One study found that managers are want to work less with women who ask for higher starting salaries during job negotiations. And that’s not because there are not women going out for high-paying jobs. According to The New York Times, “differences in the type of work men and women do account for 51 percent of the pay gap.” So what’s the other 49 percent?

“Women are not discriminated against in the workforce!” and “They have to leave the workforce anyway, so they should be paid less!”

Well-qualified women who could be at an advantage because of their class lose that advantage when applying to upper-class jobs. In a study that examined the hiring practices of elite law firms in the United States, researchers found that privileged men (meaning men from upper-class backgrounds) were offered an interview 16% of the time, which was four times more than the rate for less-privileged men, privileged women, and less-privileged women combined.

They found that being in higher social class actually penalized women, but benefitted men. Privileged women were viewed as being the least committed to their careers, while privileged men were considered the most committed.

Lawyers involved in hiring at these elite law firms viewed privileged women as “looking for a husband” or “biding time” before having children and leaving the workforce completely. They viewed less-privileged women as hardworking because they had “mouths to feed.” These assumptions are characteristic of high-paying jobs in the United States, and are, in fact illegal. This counts as gender-based discrimination, and it occurs even before women are offered a starting salary, before they’re even offered an interview.

Once women are offered a starting salary at an elite job, however, it is lower than the starting salary offered to men with the same qualifications. A study tracked MBAs from the University of Chicago’s business school beginning right after they graduated and following them through their careers. A year out of business school, men were earning $130,000, while women in their cohort were earning $115,000. Men did work a few more hours a week and had a bit more experience when they entered the job market. But nine years later, the distance between men and women’s salaries nearly doubled. On average, women saw their salaries rise to $250,000, while men salaries averaged $400,000. A little gap suddenly becomes a monstrous wage gap, where men are earning 60 percent more than women with virtually the same credentials.

One of the main causes of this gap is that these high-paying jobs penalize people who have to take care of children because they don’t work the longest hours. Those workers tend to be women. While women are in their 20s and 30s, the wage gap gets larger, but then shrinks again as they enter their 40s and 50s. Further, the wage gap is actually smaller for women working the sciences, largely because they get to set their own hours to a greater extent than women working in business or law do. If a woman leaves her job as a business woman or a lawyer for a year for maternity leave, that causes an 8.4 percent reduction in her salary.

And, working women, no matter what their job is, are still largely responsible for taking care of the children and the household. So women are penalized in their paychecks for doing this kind of work. But men are penalized even more when they switch to a part-time schedule for one year, largely because it’s viewed as a woman’s role. It, therefore, makes more sense for most families with two working parents for the woman to take the pay hit because it harms their net income less. Even before the children are born, women are penalized for being pregnant and having to miss work for doctor's appointments and potential inabilities to work regular hours.

 

The wage gap for female MBAs who have kids is 55 cents to a man’s dollar, but the wage gap for female MBAs without kids is about 79 cents to the dollar. Negotiating skills do not matter at the heart of the issue. The problem is that working certain hours in certain jobs is incredibly important. In jobs where women are not in a position to be able (not for lack of ability but because of institutionalized constraints) to work those specific hours, they are penalized in their paycheck.

 

Can the wage gap be solved?

Yes! One of the biggest policies pushed for by expert economists who research the gender wage gap is making all hours of the day available for work, not limiting workers to a 9-5 schedule. They argue that the root of the problem is the inflexibility of the workplace, and that working longer hours does not, in fact, make firms or people more productive.

 

Okay, but who cares?

YOU should care! Whether you're a man, a woman, or don’t adhere to the gender binary system, the gender wage gap affects you. It affects the women in your life, your potential spouses, your future daughters, your current sisters, your best friend, and if you identify as a woman, it definitely affects you. If women are paid more, households earn more. Some studies have shown that as women move into male-dominated fields, the overall pay goes down, for both men and women. The job becomes devalued because women are doing it. So, to all you men out there, if you want to make more money, don’t discriminate against women! If you do, your prejudice will lower your pay too because now you’re doing “women’s work.”

 

Images: Feature, 1, 2, 3, 4