Recently I have been involved in several discussions regarding the gender wage gap in the United States. It started with the following image:
A fairly significant discussion ensued about how the gender wage gap in the U.S. is a myth because it looks at wages as a whole rather than by industry, which is misleading. Last night, while watching the Democratic debate, Godless Engineer and I discussed the issue again…on which we don’t exactly agree and I think it deserves another look.
The typical argument that women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns is based on the average difference between the earnings of men and women employed in full time positions.
In 2009 the U.S. Department of Labor released a study on the wage gap which revealed that the “adjusted” wage gap—which accounts for other factors like differences in education, number of hours worked, job sector, position, etc.—is actually somewhere between 4.8 and 7 cents1 which supports the idea that the gender wage gap in the U.S. is a myth.
The problem with the “adjusted” wage gap is that it overlooks the reasons of the adjusted factors, many of which result from society’s discriminatory expectations of men and women. For example, sexism is still prominent in the workplace.
Men are more likely to be hired in management roles and considered for promotions while administrative roles are predominately filled by women.
In addition, women spend about 32% more time than men on domestic work and childcare.2 It is estimated that women who elect to have children are perceived to be less committed to their careers and studies have shown that for every child a woman has, she suffers a 5% wage penalty.3 According the American Association of University Women, “Becoming a mother can negatively affect women’s earnings, while becoming a father does not typically have the same effect.”4
In 2014 the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a study in which they tracked 535 full-time occupations and in the 125 occupations with comparable earnings data, men earned more than women in all but one profession.5 From this study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published the 10 smallest and 10 largest wage gaps in tables by occupation which showed that the jobs with the largest wage gaps have significantly higher earning potential and those occupations in which pay is more equal have significantly lower earning potential.
While I will not argue there is no value in looking at the adjusted gender wage gap, we still need to address the underlying causes of the external factors that affect income inequality between men and women. Also, as Godless Engineer pointed out, the gap isn’t standard across the board and solutions to the wage gap need to be addressed at the industry level. However, I find it more than a little troubling that the highest gender wage gaps occur in the higher paid positions, an issue that should also be addressed. What does it say about our society when we argue that women can make as much as men if they want to be a stock clerk or a maid, but can’t if they want to be a financial advisor, manager, sales person, or CEO?