Why The Wage Gap Still Matters
Women still earn less than men, and it’s still important
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandated that men and women be paid equally for equal work. Nearly sixty years later, women still earn about 80% of what men do for the same kind of work. They make even less if they are Black, Indigenous, Asian, or Latinx.
There are a variety of factors that contribute to the wage gap, including misogynistic attitudes towards women in the workplace and the fact that women are more likely to assume the responsibility of bearing and caring for children. Even though women are more likely to earn a degree, they are less likely to get a higher-paying job when they first leave college, which can hurt their overall wages during their lifetime.
The wage gap is a systemic problem that has multiple causes. It requires multifaceted solutions which are more comprehensive than a single piece of legislation.
One of the reasons why the pay gap persists is occupational segregation. Women may be less likely to enter a career with higher earning potential, such as one in STEM, because of gendered stereotypes about what men and women are respectively “good at.”
For example, the top occupation for women is teaching, which earns about $982 per week, and the top occupation for men is software development, which earns about $1894 a week– nearly twice as much. By contrast, a woman working in software development would only earn about $1644 per week on average.
The top-earning fields also tend to have the largest wage gaps. Three of the jobs most commonly performed by men pay $1500 or more per week, while none of the top 20 jobs commonly performed by women pay more than that.
Another reason why the wage gap persists is the potential for discrimination on the job. Due to centuries of patriarchal oppression, women experience a lot of workplace discrimination.
Women are more likely to be judged by employers based on factors like their physical appearance or the agreeableness of their personality.
A man who aggressively advocates for himself and his ideas in the workplace may be seen as ambitious or passionate, while a woman may be seen as bossy or shrill. A woman may feel less comfortable taking a leadership role in the workplace. She may feel less confident speaking up in a meeting or asking for a raise.
Discrimination based on these kinds of factors can be difficult to prove and to litigate. Women are more also more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment from co-workers or superiors in the workplace, which can lead to further discrimination if they decide to take action against the harassment.
While women without children also earn less than men, children are still a factor in the wage gap. Since women are more likely to be the ones carrying pregnancies, nursing, and generally serving as the caregivers of children in a family, they are more likely to take family leave.
A woman (or any person with a uterus) may also be less likely to be offered a job in the first place, based on the fact that she already has children and is, therefore, more likely to take family leave, or that, because she is a woman, she may become pregnant in the future. Some employers don’t want to take what they see as a risk by hiring a woman, who would be more likely than a man to need to take time off.
One serious consequence of the pay gap which persists beyond pure earning potential is that if women are already earning less, and one person in a partnership needs to quit their job in order to care for someone, it is more likely to be the woman, since the loss of her (usually lower) income has less of an impact on the family’s earnings as a whole.
Family and Medical Leave
Women are also more likely to serve as the caregiver of someone in the family who is ill. More women than men have a need to take medical leave, more women end up taking it, and yet more women than men still have an unmet need for medical leave.
The fact that a woman is more likely to take family or medical leave may also lead to more serious negative consequences for her career in the long run. Women are also more likely than men to report that the choice to take family or medical leave had negatively affected them at work.
Someone who takes this kind of leave may be more likely to be passed over for a promotion or to have their responsibilities delegated to someone else while they are gone.
Someone who takes time off may be viewed as less competitive or less committed to their job. Taking family or medical leave also sometimes results in having to reveal details of one’s personal life to one’s employer, which can make workplace interactions awkward.
Another consequence of women earning less is the fact that financial independence is necessary for women to have freedom and rights in their personal lives. Women who earn less are more likely to be dependent upon their spouses for survival.
For women in domestic abuse situations, not earning enough to survive on their own may be a barrier that prevents them from leaving. People often ask why it is that victims of domestic abuse don’t “just leave” and the boring answer is often that they simply cannot afford to.
People often ask why it is that victims of domestic abuse don’t “just leave” and the boring answer is often that they simply cannot afford to.
When faced with the choice between staying with their abuser or being homeless (sometimes with pets or with children), women sometimes stay with the abuser. Earning less may mean planning to avoid what could be an equally dangerous situation, or to avoid being separated from loved ones. Earning less also makes it harder to afford a lawyer, which can make it harder to prosecute an abuser or to defend oneself against accusations of abuse.
Even if a woman is just in a relationship or a marriage that she simply does not want to be in, being dependent upon a partner for housing or other essential needs can prolong the time spent in an unwanted partnership before a breakup or a divorce.
Being unable to afford a good lawyer due to earning less can also mean being awarded less in a divorce, or having greater difficulty getting custody of children.
The consequences of the wage gap are complex and far-reaching. In a capitalist society, a person who makes less money is bound to have lesser social and political power overall. The persistence of the wage gap can negatively affect any woman, based solely on the fact that she will have less potential to earn money over her lifetime than a man.
Earning less over a lifetime can impact many things that go beyond the workplace, like the ability to get a good education or the opportunity to own property. Lower-income people are also more likely to be incarcerated, to develop mental health issues, or to become addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Someone who is earning less may also be working more hours to make ends meet, and consequently, be less likely to have free time to engage in politics or to affect change within their community.
Having a lower earning potential limits your options in life, and that makes the wage gap something worth paying attention to.