Women are almost half of the workforce and are the sole or co-breadwinner in half of American families with children. Even though women receive more college and graduate degrees than men, they continue to earn less than men. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2018, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 81.1 percent, a slight decrease of 0.7 percent since 2017. If a man earns $973, a woman earns $789. Women on average are losing out on $10,086 in pay each year because of the pay gap, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. That contributes to higher levels of poverty and income inequality, as well as leaving women less secure in their retirements. Women of all major racial and ethnic groups earn less than men of the same group, and also earn less than white men. They also earn less in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both genders to calculate ratios. If change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past 50 years, it will take 40 years (until 2059) for women to finally reach equal pay with men. For Black women it will be 2119 and for Hispanic women it will be 2224. Here are some reasons experts have developed for this wage disparity.
The reasons for this pay inequality are many. Jobs performed by women usually pay less on average than jobs usually performed by men. During the last few decades, women have moved into jobs and fields that were previously done almost exclusively by men however during the last two decades this progress has slowed to a trickle. In construction, there has been no progress in 40 years. This lack of gender integration of work is a primary contributor to preventing a closing of the gender wage gap. Girls are often encouraged to enter “soft” professions such as education, while boys are routed into math or science-related fields. Because many women are less likely to be encouraged to study higher-paying fields, they are placed on a track for lower life-long earnings. This is known as occupational segregation. Women tend to disproportionately work in lower-paid fields, while men dominate higher-paid industries. Then there is that glass ceiling! As more men remain in the senior positions, women are left in the lower-tier jobs earning less money.
Another problem is that women are paid less than men in their first jobs after college, even when adjusting for their occupations and field of study. Women can then get locked into permanently lower pay, given subsequent employers often base their salary offers on what job candidates previously earned. One year after graduating from college, women with a computer science degree are earning 77 cents for each $1 earned by their male classmates with the same degree, according to the American Association of University Women.
The biggest pay hit happens when women have children, leading to what researchers call a “motherhood penalty.” Studies completed at the University of Massachusetts found that women lose 4% of earnings for each child they have, while men see an increase in earnings for each child. Employers often feel that women are not as committed to their jobs after having kids, yet studies done by the research firm Payscale have found that men prioritize family obligations more than women do. Also, women spend twice as much as men caring for or helping children or other household members.
Women who step out of the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom will feel lasting implications in their salary and financial health. Not only do they lose the wages for those five years, but they also lose out on retirement savings and wage increases.
Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equality (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. The NCPE leadership chose a Tuesday in April for this day to show how far into the next work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week. Women are encouraged to wear red on that day to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay. Many women’s business and professional associations, labor groups, civil rights organizations and other committed to equal pay coordinate activities on that date to raise awareness about how to solve gender wage inequality. Let’s take it a step further and continue these activities long after April so that the gender wage gap can be a thing of the past, not looming ahead for another 40 years.
**Institute for Women’s Policy Research
written by Tonia DeCosimo