Growing up, I always heard women are paid less than men, but what does that mean? Do women choose lower-paying careers? Do women choose to opt out of their careers more than men? Or is the idea of a wage gap just a hoax?
Within the past few years, speculation has arisen concerning the reality of the gender pay gap. Some argue women are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts in certain occupations; others argue the pay gap is non-existent.
Unfortunately for those who think the pay gap is long gone, the truth is the pay gap is very much still real for thousands of women in the U.S.
Although the pay gap has improved over the years, on average, women in the U.S. are paid 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn, a gap of 20 percent. According to the American Association of University Women, at the rate of change since the 1960s, women are not expected to achieve equal pay with men until 2059.
The annual gap of 80 percent is merely a moderate estimate of wage inequality. Based on AAUW statistics, for women of color, the gap is much worse.
On average, the gap between Hispanic and Latina women and white males is the largest, with these women receiving only 54 percent of what their Caucasian male counterparts earn.
So, why the difference?
Many wage-gap skeptics claim women “choose” to take lower-paying career paths than men, or women are expected to leave the workplace in their early years to have children.
A partial explanation for the wage gap is occupational segregation, or the tendency of an industry to be heavily dominated by one gender. Among the top 20 most common occupations for men and women, only four overlap both genders.
For example, the realm of health care is mostly female-dominated, although the majority of doctors are male. Even though women fill a large amount of positions in health care, the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines STEM positions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as “male-dominated, high-paying jobs,” but female-dominated health care jobs such as nurses are only recognized as “STEM-related positions.”
This type of segregation can also explain how society values careers commonly recognized as “female” jobs, such as child-care workers and teachers. Child care workers make almost poverty-level wages, and teaching salaries in a majority of states remain subpar.
Perhaps because women are often associated with taking care of children, society believes they should not have to pay highly for a woman to do it professionally.
The wage gap is also evident in labeled “STEM” careers for women.
In a study of 1,200 STEM graduates, researchers discovered women earn approximately one-third less than men after completing a Ph.D.
Evidence concludes the wage gap is still alive, so what is the solution?
Further legislation requiring equal pay could help reduce the pay gap. Although most states have passed the Equal Rights Amendment to ensure all women are treated fairly in the workplace, it has not been ratified into federal law.
Along with ratifying the ERA, paid leave family policies would also provide aid. Many policies allow only one parent to receive paid leave, and only three states have passed policies to allow both parents to receive paid leave. Women will stay in the workplace longer if they know they can share the responsibility of children with their husbands.
As for everyday Americans, you have the power to help reduce the wage gap. Encourage women and men to pursue the careers they want. Speak out against gender inequality – female or male.