American Culture

Fall into the gap: Why are women still paid less than men for equal work?

In case anyone missed it today, I wanted to take the time to point people towards the Center for American Progress’s (CAP) terrific interactive feature “The Game of Wages.” It’s fun, it’s visually fantastic, and it drives home a problem that shouldn’t exist: that in 2013, women are still getting paid less than men for the same amount of work.

From CAP’s report:

“Of the 534 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn more than men in exactly seven professions. Together, these seven occupations account for about 1.5 million working women, or about 3 percent of the full-time female labor force.

The remaining 97 percent of full-time working women are in occupations where they earn less than their male counterparts…

Education, success, and occupational prestige are not enough to protect women from the gender wage gap. While data show that American women are in more senior managerial professions than other OECD countries, these high-achieving women are still disadvantaged by an above-average wage gap. Managerial professionals, CEOs, and administrators all rank in the top 10 occupations in which women earn less than men.”

I already had an idea of the disgusting wage difference between men and women, and the reasons to pay women less turned my stomach even more. The top reasons employers gave for wage inequality were pay difference in work fields, and gaps in job experience.

The fields of work that men and women occupy are part of the problem – many of the traditionally female caregiver and clerical jobs pay less than engineering and administrative fields that men generally fill. But the second reason for unequal pay is a doozy: many employers point to “lack of experience” as a reason to pay women less.

The “lack of experience” here comes from a uniquely feminine source: children. Women often leave the workforce for a few years to start and raise a family, something that most men do not do. Sure, men start families, but most do not leave the workforce to do so. Parenting has always been a very one-sided cultural pursuit, with the burden of child-rearing falling on women – women that leave the work force, don’t get paid when they do leave, and sometimes do not have their job waiting for them when they return. While many countries offer paid maternity (and sometimes, paternity) leave, the US is still dragging behind. With the cost of living rising, most families need both parents to work; but when women go back into the workforce after having children, their experience gap puts them at a pay disadvantage.

And while women now outnumber men at colleges and universities, CAP notes that a woman needs a PhD to make the same amount of money over her lifetime as a man with a 4-year degree would.

Women’s access to college and advanced degrees has not been enough to close the gap completely. Women need an additional degree in order to make as much as men with a lower degree over the course of a lifetime. A woman would need a doctoral degree, for instance, to earn the same as a man with a bachelor’s degree, and a man with a high school education would earn approximately the same amount as a woman with a bachelor’s degree.

CATEGORY: BusinessFinanceHow the hell is that fair?

Washington has prided itself for making progress in gender equality for years now – making strides to educate and employ more women, electing women to higher office in increasing numbers, and patting themselves on the back for approving the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

It’s still not enough.

The causes for income inequality and the gender pay gap are many and varied, and the solutions should be the same. We, as a nation, cannot just pass one limited pay equality bill and sit on our hands, saying that we fixed the problem. Because we haven’t. And we’re not even close.

Furthermore, pay inequality disproportionately affects families. More than ever, women are the primary breadwinners in single-family households. If women cannot earn equitable and fair pay for their hard work, it makes it more difficult to raise families, leaving many women to work multiple jobs.

Together, we have to pass more legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, and enforce it. We need to make it clear to employers that a woman’s work is just as important and valuable as a man’s work, and wages should reflect this equity.

Culturally, we have to make it easier for women and men to co-parent, and ease the burden on women who want both a family and a career – no woman should have to have her earning potential penalized because she chose to start and raise a family. And we need to seriously look at our nation’s laws regarding paid sick time, paid maternity (and paternity) leave, and other legislation that affects families and their earning power.

To be frank, wage inequality is an antiquated problem that we should have solved ages ago, and it’s a national embarrassment that in 2013, we haven’t rectified this wrong. This is a multi-pronged problem, and it needs a multi-pronged response – and soon.

9 replies »

  1. I think what we have here is actually two distinct questions. The first is why women get paid less for the same work, and the answer there is that there’s absolutely zero excuse, period.

    The second issue is considerably stickier. This is the one that goes to women who stepped away to have families being paid less when they return to the work force. I think this one forces you to consider a whole different set of criteria.

    The issue is that these women have objectively less experience. Person A has worked in the industry for 20 years and Person B for five years. All other things being equal, those two are simply not deserving of comparable compensation, regardless of the reasons why B was out of the work force. Now, I say “all things being equal” – in truth, they almost never are, and I have certainly seen people with five years experience who were more qualified than the 20-year vet. This is a huge problem where corporations are concerned today – HR staffs are too stupid to adequately evaluate talent. Years experience is a criterion to consider, but it ain’t everything.

    All that said, you’re in the deep woods if you want to assert that a woman who took 20 years off to raise a family merits the same pay as if she’d worked those 20 years, because a) it’s simply not a sensible position on its face, and b) it means you also think a woman who took 20 years off should be paid the same as a woman who worked those 20 years.

    Is there a grander social criterion, some collective sense that we ought to pay more for those who raised children, which is a clear social imperative? Maybe. That would be an interesting conversation. But given what’s before us, I’d say we need to separate the two issues here and then figure out how best to approach the second.

    • well said. i’ve been there. i’ve bent over backwards to make sure the women with small kids who worked for me had in town jobs and didnt have to travel, which increased the travel load on the single people and fathers of young children. it’s not an easy question.

  2. You’re correct! Frankly, after 70 years of living, and 50 years in the “business world”, as far as I’m concerned, it all boils down to men fearing (and justifiably so) that women will and can do a better job than them. So, I suppose it’s also a problem (more stress) for men, a problem they created. Also, from what I’ve seen women do, and how they cope with this crazy biased world, there is no doubt they get the job done! As soon as the “men” ride themselves of this unwarranted fear, plus pay and respect women on an equal basis as men, they’d see profits go up. If a man can do something in the business world, so can a women… With some obvious exceptions… a man can’t model women’s clothes and women can’t model men’s clothes, etc. Here’s to the future…

  3. Hello “No Ulterior Motive.” I hope you’re still hanging around, because I’d like to walk with you a ways on what you had to say.

    I’m not quite as old as you, but I’m not too far away. I spent decades as a management consultant, serving scores of large companies, as well as working in white-collar jobs in a Fortune 500 company. Part of my career as a consultant concerned pay systems within large corporations. My take on the vast majority of the pay gap between men and women is that it’s largely the result of three factors: (1) time in grade; (2) time in the workforce; and (3) supply and demand in various disciplines. Both time in grade and time in the workforce are subject to decisions individuals make about leaving the workforce and returning. Supply and demand center around the skills various employers need to run their businesses, how many people with those skills are needed, and how many people in the workforce have them.

    For better or worse, and for whatever reason, women are underrepresented in college majors requiring STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills, and as a consequence, are underrepresented in these fields in American business. And it is precisely these fields in which there is a high demand and relatively limited supply.

    Historically, when women were considered for only three white-collar fields (nursing, teaching, and administrative support), I think one could construct a compelling argument that pay rates were depressed by a plethora of talented, skilled women forced into just a few fields. Supply was plentiful for the demand. Unionization has brought pay rates in teaching and nursing far more in line with actual skills value, and while administrative support jobs haven’t increased in relative pay nearly as much, it’s probably because talented and highly skilled women abandoned that field for more lucrative, more challenging business, law, and other careers.

    As for men’s “fearing (and justifiably so) that women will and can do a better job than them,” I simply haven’t encountered this attitude. I think some men fear that women can do their jobs as well as they can (and justifiably so), but if women are actually, universally better at every job that employers have, I’ve never seen any evidence to support it. When I look back at all the bosses I’ve had, some of the best were women and some of the best were men. Some of the worst were women, and some of the worst were men. Same with clients. It’s pretty evenly split, actually.

    Do you have evidence that women actually do a better job in the business world than men?

    • I didn’t make the argument that men “fear” that women will do a better job than they do. I was making the argument that women don’t make as much money as men for the same amount of work, which is crap. There’s no way for me to judge quality. I have no evidence that women do a better job than men, because that’s not the argument I was trying to make.

      I agree, women are underrepresented in colleges in STEM fields, and that the decisions to leave or join the workforce are those of the individuals. But I think there are larger issues that aren’t being addressed.

      • Alex, you do understand that I was responding to “No Ulterior Motive,” and not to you, yes?

        The way to find out about real pay inequities is to do several multivariate analyses and combine the results. Only by doing that can one isolate the factors that may have little or nothing to do with any sort of prejudice leading to lower pay.

        My wife and I have had this conversation more than once. My take is that I want my children to be as close to me as they are to her. It’s not my fault that I spent 60-hour weeks at an insane job trying to earn enough money to buy more than the basics for my family. I should get the same closeness that she gets by spending all those hours changing them, feeding them, playing with them, and generally being a great parent. Alas, it’s not to be. It turns out that we pretty much get back from various facets of our lives what we put in, and she put in more time on the kids than I did. That’s the price, it would seem.

    • “Do you have evidence that women actually do a better job in the business world than men?” No… no one does, that I know of. There are no absolutes on this matter for you, or me, on this “issue”. We can only go case by case, but really, who’s counting. What I said is how I feel based upon what I observed in my life, and I too have done my share of consulting and people managing, etc. I’m not out to prove anyone right or wrong, that’s usually pointless. I simply said I agreed with the post, and I obviously (and I’m not being facetious, either) did a lousy job of expressing my agreement. I do appreciate you taking the time to read and reply to my comment. This is good.