Let’s have a better conversation about the Gender Pay Gap

You may have heard that, on average, women earn about 80¢ for every dollar a man earns. While technically true, this statistic can be a little misleading. You may also have heard that the gender pay gap is a myth, which is also a bit of an overstatement. What exactly is going on?

If you take into account all working men and women and do not make any adjustments, you come out with the 20% difference mentioned above. What accounts for the discrepancy? In short: lots of things, but mostly choices. Check out this link for some interesting interactive charts about the gender pay gap. According to PayScale.com, when adjusted, women earn $0.98 for every $1.00 men make.

Let’s take a look at biology and traditional family roles. Women are the only sex able to get pregnant and are therefore more likely to have their careers interrupted by childbirth. Women are also more likely to choose to take time off from their careers to raise children and are less likely to take jobs with unpredictable schedules. Taking a break like this sets women back on the road to higher paychecks. Is there something wrong with this? Maybe, or maybe not.

A greater percentage of women than men tend to work part-time. Part-time work tends to pay less than full-time work.
A greater percentage of women than men tend to leave the labor force for child birth, child care and elder care. Some of the wage gap is explained by the percentage of women who were not in the labor force during previous years, the age of women, and the number of children in the home.
Women, especially working mothers, tend to value “family friendly” workplace policies more than men. Some of the wage gap is explained by industry and occupation, particularly, the percentage of women who work in the industry and occupation. – Findings from the CONSAD Research Corporation

The career paths and degree programs that women choose are often lower-paying than those more likely to be chosen by men. Women are, for example, more likely to choose to be teachers than engineers. The highest paying degree fields are dominated by men. Men are also more likely to take risky jobs. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “in 2011, men had a rate eight times the fatal injury rate compared with women and accounted for 92 percent of all deaths at work.”

Research has also shown that women are simply less likely to negotiate their salaries with their employers. Without haggling over the price of their labor, they are more likely to get the short end of the stick. A lack of pay transparency in the workplace can also make it difficult to notice when outright discrimination is taking place.

Behind this statistic are a variety of economic and social factors. Rather than being clear evidence that women are consistently undervalued in the workplace, this figure asks much more penetrating questions about our choices and our values. We often make decisions, economic decisions included, according to our values. Our values do not appear out of a vacuum. They come from our parents, our friends, religious institutions, schools, entertainment, and even advertising.

  • Do our culture and economy value immediate profit over family time? How can work and family life be balanced?
  • Is corporate culture too rigid and inflexible? In the age of the internet, can we imagine an economy with more flexible working hours?
  • How does a lack of pay transparency shape compensation?
  • Are women being scorned for preferring work that brings a lower wage? Is there more to a good life than higher wages?
  • Is the type of work women are more drawn to being undervalued? What social pressures might direct women disproportionately to lower paying work?
  • Are men under social pressure to take higher risk jobs? Is enough being done to keep work environments safe?

The gender wage gap conversation should be about a lot more than discrimination if we are going to get at the many different hearts of the matter.

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