April 12 marks Equal Pay Day in America, spotlighting, however temporarily, a topic that has proven itself controversial in both the realm of the general public and studied economists. The gender wage gap, in which men are paid more than women on a national basis, is an issue whose depth has consumed the better part of some researchers’ careers, primarily due to a plethora of technicalities which surround it.
These technicalities become difficult to discuss when people possess strong views, especially when members on both sides seem to believe that any conditional statements made regarding the matter cause the wage gap issue to lose its legitimacy. While there’s a lot to clarify about the wage gap, one thing that should remain crystal clear throughout the debate is that the wage gap is not a myth, and certainly not so easily ‘debunked’ as some may argue.
One commonly cited figure is the supposed 79 cents women receive per every dollar paid to a man. This figure has risen 2 cents over the past two years, but that’s little cause for celebration; at that rate women won’t reach equal pay for another quarter of a century. In terms of annual earnings this gap in wage comes out to 21 percent, by weekly pay it’s somewhere between 18 percent and 19 percent, by hourly wage it comes down to 16 percent.
None of these statistics take into account differences in education, experience, skill or occupation between the genders. Once these factors are calculated, the wage gap lowers to 4-8 percent. Many opponents of the wage gap theory claim this debunks it, choosing to ignore the 4-8 percent which seems to undoubtedly be the product of gender discrimination. This gender discrimination manifests itself beyond this 4-8 percent, causing men to more quickly be promoted to supervisory status, even within roles stereotypically associated with women, like library directors and nursing positions.
The gender wage gap does not affect all women equally. Age plays a major role in widening the gap, as does race. In 2014, black women made 63 percent of what white men earned, while Latina women came in at approximately 54 percent. Women belonging to these ethnic minorities also reportedly have diminished access to workplace rights such as paid sick absence, flexible work schedule and maternity leave.
Between parents, the wage gap only widens further. Studies show that with each child a family has, a women’s pay drops 7.5 percent. Beyond this, a study conducted in which fictitious resumes were sent out by a Stanford professor found that female applicants with children were offered lower-paying jobs (and less likely to receive offers at all.) Conversely, men with children are often deemed more responsible by businesses, and thus having children benefits them in terms of promotions and starting wages. None of this addresses the daily extra hour of unpaid work women serve over men.
Finally, it’s impossible to judge how much of an effect gender stereotypes have on young women’s occupations of choice. A recent poll shows that 30 percent of of Americans still wholeheartedly believe women should stay home full time to care for children. The effects of this and other applications of traditional gender roles are not measurable, but undoubtedly very real.
A study conducted by Cornell economists found that 51 percent of the difference in compensation between men and women is correlated to the fact that female workers are more concentrated in underpaid sectors, such as nursing and education, where women often serve lower-level roles. Maybe most troubling of all is the information that the average pay drops for a field of work the more women enter it. Over the course of 50 years the pay for workers working in parks or camps lowered 57 percent as the demographic of workers went from primarily male to female. In similar cases, pay dropped 34 percent for designers, 21 percent for housekeepers, and 18 percent for biologists, once women dominated the workforce. Conversely, the field of computer science saw a raise in pay and prestige as workers became primarily male.
Perhaps the most obvious observation I could make at this point is that the gender wage gap exists, or that it’s bad. Instead I hope this brings to light the many intricacies that are present in the wage gap, and perhaps explains why some women don’t perceive any gender discrimination at all, while others feel the consequences of a very real prejudice.