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The Truth About the Wage Gap

Updated on December 19, 2016

Foreword

This is quite a touchy subject with many people feeling very strongly about the topic of the 'wage gap' and gender equality in general. The first section is my attempt at an unbiased overview of the topic of the wage gap, with well cited studies and census information making up the majority of the sources. However, the conclusion section will be influenced by my own thoughts about the topic.

The history of the past is but one long struggle upward to equality.

— Elizabeth Cady Stanton

5 'Truths' About the Wage Gap

1. 78 Cents to the Dollar

The most commonly chanted buzzwords by feminists fighting for equal pay is "78 Cents to the Dollar" (varies between 76-80), but where does this statistic come from? And is the statistic viable? The 78 cents to the dollar slogan stems from the Census Bureau's analysis of median female and median incomes. Some may be quite outraged by this seemingly blatant breach of equality. While others might be a little bit skeptical as to why this 'blatant breach of equality' hasn't been acted upon. This is because the statistic, while extremely accurate, does not provide any major insight into anything besides median wages. So when people say that the 78 cents to a dollar is for equal work, that's just false, men and women do not have the same exact jobs. If employers could get away with paying 80% wages for women, most men would be out of work. For every 100 people working in software engineering, there are not 50 men and 50 women, and for every 100 schoolteachers, there are not 50 men and 50 women.

2. Men and Women Take Different Professions

The most direct reason for the rather discrepant 22 percent 'raw' wage gap is that men and women choose different career paths. A study done by Anthony Carnevale, an economics professor of Georgetown University showed that women dominate nine of the ten majors that lead to professions that lead to lowest paychecks, like theater and performing arts, elementary education and human services; while men dominate the nine of the ten highest paying majors, such as petroleum, mechanical and aerospace engineering and computer science. Think about all of the teachers that you had in primary and secondary school, the most likely scenario is that about 80% of them were female. While if you think of your pediatrician, there's about an 80% chance he was male. This large difference between choices of profession is cited as the most important reason for the wage gap.

3. There is Occupational Segregation

Although some think that jobs like engineer are naturally best suited for men and for this reason men take more engineering jobs, while jobs like schoolteacher are naturally best suited to women, there is undoubtably some measure of occupational segregation in both male and female dominated occupations. Numerous studies suggest that there are stereotypes that men perform better at some tasks (math and mechanical tasks) while women are better at others (nurturing, teaching) can influence both employer's willingness to hire and people's willingness to pursue an occupation. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) states labor markets are influenced by ideas of 'men's' jobs and 'women's' jobs. This means that a woman who has affinity or natural ability for engineering may be influenced by stereotypes of her own gender to not pursue an engineering career, or that a woman who graduated at the top of her class may be passed over for the man who graduated at the top of his class, due to the employer's perception of gender roles in the engineering profession.

3a. Female Dominated Positions May be Inherently Paid Less

With many professions being so consistently segregated by gender, some have stated that the value placed on the profession and the average paycheck of someone in the profession may be skewed by the traditional gender identity of the profession, leading to the potential undervaluing of many professions dominated by women.

4. Women are more likely to take maternity leave and are discriminated against for it

The second most important reason for the wage gap and employment discrimination against women is that women are likely to take maternity leave. There has been many studies of the so-called "motherhood penalty", with much of the evidence pointing towards a bias against married women and women with children. The OECD agrees with this cumulative conclusion, stating that "a significant impact of children on women's pay is generally found in the United Kingdom and the United States. There is also the problem concerning most women who have children, where mothers are held to a higher application standard in comparison to non-mothers and single women, while fathers are held to a lower application standard than their non-father and single counterparts.

5. Even When Accounting for Everything there is still a Wage Gap

The phrase: "equal pay for equal work" is thrown around a lot these days, and as I mentioned above, it is usually used with the 78 cents factoid, which is a bad use of the statistics, but there is still a discrepancy between men and women's income when accounting for factors like education, hours, years of experience, age and parental status, a difference around 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The cause of the remaining wage gap is very unclear and is still debated, but the general consensus is that the remaining 6% gap stems from women's deficiency in salary negotiation and gender discrimination by the implicit or explicit denial of promotion/extra responsibility. However, a prominent book, the Richer Sex, written by Liza Mundy concluded that women, under even more precise parameters, earn more than men for the same jobs.


While it's true that women take in 22% less income per year than men, taking the figures at face value is over simplification and fails to highlight the real problems facing women in the workplace.
While it's true that women take in 22% less income per year than men, taking the figures at face value is over simplification and fails to highlight the real problems facing women in the workplace. | Source
Petroleum Engineering, the most lucrative major with a median mid-career salary of about $100,000 is dominated by men, with about 70% of students being male.
Petroleum Engineering, the most lucrative major with a median mid-career salary of about $100,000 is dominated by men, with about 70% of students being male.
Teaching on the other hand, is one of the least lucrative majors with a median mid-career salary in the 40-50 thousands and is dominated by women, with women accounting for more than 75% of students being female.
Teaching on the other hand, is one of the least lucrative majors with a median mid-career salary in the 40-50 thousands and is dominated by women, with women accounting for more than 75% of students being female.

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.

— Aristotle

Conclusion

How to Move Past the Wage Gap

Although the wage gap stems from ideas deeply ingrained into our psyche, there are a few things we can do to start addressing and fixing this problem.

The first step to bridging the wage gap is for both sides of the aisle to acknowledge the facts associated with this issue. This means that the skeptics have to acknowledge that there is some wage gap even when accounting for numerous factors, and that the hard-line feminists have to stop citing incorrect facts and making unreasonable arguments.

The second step is to take steps to monitor individual cases of implicit and explicit sexually-discriminant hiring through statistical monitoring and case analysis. These reforms would probably also try to frequently do regular checks on businesses in a similar way to a health inspection, by submitting nearly identical resumes and observing the impact of gender, relationship status or number of children.

The final and perhaps most important, yet hardest step is to change the perception of gender's role on certain vocations and professions. It will not be easy to teach girls that "hey being an electrical engineer might be the career for you" or to put less pressure on women to stay home and take care of children, but these are steps that we must take to create a more equal labor market and workplace.

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