The Knowledge Gap about the Wage Gap

BY: SACHI MADAN, CONTRIBUTOR

Wednesday, April 10 was Equal Pay Day, a day to address the national differences in female and male income levels. I posted some statistics and infographics on my Instagram story, and no less than eight people contacted me afterward, telling me that I am wrong and that the wage gap does not exist. They called me an “angry feminist.” So I took the liberty of doing some extra research and realized that there were some misconceptions, both on their part and on my part, and apparently on the part of a lot of people. Here is the truth about the wage gap, and hopefully it will nullify the knowledge gap that exists in the minds of millions.

According to the Centre for American Progress, the statistic that is quoted most often is that women make 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. This statistic is found by taking the average of what women who work full time & year-round earn and comparing it to the average of what men who work full time & year-round earn.

This means that this statistic is invalid when comparing what women and men make for the exact same job. But statistics reported by CNBC in 2016 show that even for the exact same job title, men earned 2.4 percent more than women on average. While this gap is substantially smaller, it is still one that raises concern and warrants some progress. Even if the amount that men are paid is only slightly above what women make, the gap still exists and the fight for equal pay should continue until women and men make the same wages for the same work.

But why is the 77 cents statistic used so often? Does it represent anything? In fact, yes it does. The statistic measures how much women on average earn, as compared to men. Thus, it shows that women, on average, earn less than men; the explanation for this is that women are either less likely to be promoted into higher paying jobs, or that they are less likely to pursue higher paying careers. Unsurprisingly, both are very true.

The same CNBC article cited earlier also reports that “Men were 41 percent more likely to go into management roles and nearly twice as likely to have an executive position in the late stages of their careers.” In fact, “nearly 20 percent of all women and 36 percent of those with MBA degrees said their gender was a factor in missing a raise or promotion.” While this means that women and men are not working the same jobs, it means that women are being discriminated against when seeking opportunities to work the same jobs, especially those at a higher position.

Women are also less likely to pursue higher paying careers. As reported by CNN Money in 2017, “Nine out of the 10 highest-paying majors are dominated by males… while six out of the 10 lowest-paying majors were dominated by females.” College majors often determine the level of pay that people can attain later in life. While it may be the choice of many women to follow their passion and pursue these lower paying majors, it is a fact that many women are pressured into choosing these majors because of gender stereotypes and a sentiment of not belonging in male-dominated workplaces.

Gender stereotypes play a huge role in the types of work that men and women gravitate towards. Think about this – when you think of a doctor, you will most likely consider a male, while when you think of a nurse, you will most likely consider a female. But this isn’t just a sentiment; a National Women’s Law Centre report discusses a study in which participants were asked to identify the requirements of various occupations. The study found that they listed “sex” or gender over 60% of the time, and often it was the first item mentioned. Women are feeling like they can’t pursue a career because of the gender that they were born; this is indicative of a problem, and this needs to be addressed.

The sentiment of feeling out-of-place persists as well; an Economist article from 2017 provides some research from Canada that compared reactions to ads for the same jobs. Some ads used stereotypically masculine words such as “leader, or competitive” while some used feminine ones such as “support, interpersonal and understand.” Women found the “masculine” jobs from the ads less appealing, but the reason was not that they felt they would be unable to do them. “They read the words as a signal of a male-dominated workplace, where they would not belong.”

Even if women do end up with lucrative majors, they often fall behind in the workplace when starting a family. The aforementioned Economist article states that women’s average “future wages fall at 4% per child, and 10% for the highest-earning, most skilled… women.” The article also shared that after giving birth, many women switched to jobs that required less experience or time, where “only 15% of women with graduate degrees in science and engineering were employed in their specialism in 2011, compared with 31% of men. And nearly a fifth were out of the labour force, a share twice as high as among similarly qualified men.” This all comes about from the most typical stereotype, that a woman is responsible for the care of her child while a male is responsible for earning the money for a family. Oftentimes, stay at home fathers are questioned, while women who work soon after having a child are seen as ‘workaholics’ or ‘negligent.’

The truth is, I see these issues present in my own life. For the past three years, I have been adamant about pursuing a career in politics. I am only in high school and have not yet had workplace experience in my chosen field, yet I constantly have doubts about whether I should go into a career where I am unlikely to be taken seriously because of my gender. Whether it’s because I heard adults say in 2008 that they would “rather vote for a black man than a woman,” a comment that is frankly both racist and sexist, or because I look to the media where female politicians are characterised as being ‘angry’ and ‘emotional,’ or if it’s because I’ve been told by judges in debate competitions that I should be pursuing modelling or cooking rather than debating in a male-dominated Student Congress room, I feel scared for my future. Many people want to see statistics, and while I have provided them in this article, it is important to remember that statistics and numbers should not characterize every aspect of societal progress – women are feeling disenfranchised. If our personal narratives, sentiments, and experiences are enough to dissuade us from pursuing a career of our choice, it should definitely be enough to persuade society to make some change.

A question still remains unanswered: why is it important to grant women equal opportunities and equal pay, apart from the obvious factor of equality? The answer: it benefits society enormously. Time Magazine reports in 2016 that “full gender equality in the workplace could boost the US economy by a staggering $4.3 trillion in about a decade” and estimates that if every state was able to “match the nation’s top state in terms of job growth for women, the country’s GDP would rise by $2.1 trillion by 2025. That’s 10% better than our usual rate of growth, or the equivalent of adding an economy the size of Texas.”

But if women had the same job opportunities, it would benefit more than just the macroeconomy. It would also benefit individual families who are currently struggling to make ends meet. As found by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The poverty rate for all working women would be halved, falling to 3.9%. For the 36.2 million families headed by married women, the poverty rate would fall by more than half… to 1.1%. The high poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half, from 28.7% to 15.0%, and two-thirds would receive a pay increase. For the 14.3 million single women, equal pay would mean a very significant drop in poverty from 11.0% to 4.6%.” These statistics can no longer be ignored; the war on poverty has been considered important by many government officials, yet equal opportunities and wages for women have been put on the back burner.

When women are given equal opportunities and equal pay, we are not only creating a more equitable society, but we are also tackling major issues such as poverty and economic stagnation. I urge everyone to fight for access to equal opportunities and ultimately equal pay.

Image Credits: http://www.latina.com/lifestyle/our-issues/gender-pay-gap-latina-mom