Over half a century ago, the Equal Pay Act was passed. The Kennedy Administration recognized that equal pay was essential for the growth of the economy, the stability of the labor force, and the well-being and health of American workers.
The Equal Pay Act didn’t make the gender pay gap disappear, and today American women are still earning as much as 18% less than men in equal roles. So why does the gender pay gap still exist? Here are 5 reasons that women earn less than men in the United States.
A Matter of Representation
As a matter of statistics, there are more women in lower-paying jobs than there are men. Teachers, food service workers and “secretarial” positions are largely filled by female workers.
Let’s look at it this way: the average teacher salary in the United States is just over $31,000 per year. This field is dominated by women- in the public school system, 76% of teachers are women. Compare this to the 52% of public school administrators who are women. The average salary of those administrators is around $90,000, and the gender gap closes at these higher ranking positions.
With more women in fields such as hospitality and entry level nursing, it’s natural that the pay of women will be, on average, less than that of men who hold positions in higher paying fields.
Now, that’s not to say that there’s any actual reason why women should hold these lower paying positions. In fact, a lot of it boil down to gender discrimination. Let’s take the field of information technology as an example.
Women, historically, have been groomed to perform well in the fine arts. English, typing and music have been the forte of women for many years, while they’ve been taught that boys were better at maths and sciences.
However, the IT field is growing exponentially. And tech companies have been receiving more and more applications from qualified female workers. Even the big names in the field like Google and Amazon have been making a point to hire more women.
Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games once those women land jobs. In fact, 32% of these women feel compelled to quit their jobs within a year, either because they felt their careers were being stalled or because of harassment in the workplace.
Thus, these high-paying IT jobs are left for the men, further widening the gender gap. There are similar wage violations in other high-paying roles.
The Mommy Tax
Not every woman chooses to have a child. But when a woman does choose to have kids, there’s generally a man who chooses to do so, as well. How is it, then, that 27% of women quit work to care for families? 42% of women reduced their working hours. And 39% have taken significant time off for work?
Compare this to the 24% of men who take significant time off from work to care for a child, and you’ll begin to see where the difference lies. While FMLA requires that a woman be guaranteed a job (usually) when she returns, there’s no guarantee what that job will be, how it will pay, or the number of hours she’ll work.
Choosing to have children is a huge decision for any family – it’s an even more difficult one for women who wish to return to work.
The Disintegration of Government Sponsored Childcare
But, can’t those women just enroll their kids in daycare? Not really. The national average cost of daycare is $972 per month. Frankly, that’s almost as much as the average monthly mortgage payment.
Now, back in the day we did have government sponsored childcare. During World War II, 16 million Americans went to fight, leaving women at home with the children. Of course, commerce didn’t stop, and these women had to return to work.
The United States government heavily subsidized a childcare program to watch these women’s children while the women went to work. Children, regardless of family income, had access to childcare, thanks to the United States government.
The program wasn’t a cure for the women’s ills. It was also a very rushed program, and certainly had its flaws – understaffing was a problem for the day care centers. And, of course, when the war ended, those women went right back to their “rightful roles” in the home, and the government subsidies ended.
The program wasn’t ideal, but it certainly speaks to the idea that, with a little bit of forethought, such a program could be possible again, helping to close the gender pay gap.
Women in the military. Women firefighters. Women cops. All are topics of many a Thanksgiving dinner debate.
Within the debate, there’s fact and there’s fiction. One fact is that women can’t do everything that men can do and vice versa. Ever heard of a male wet nurse? Sorry, it just needed to be said.
But there are quite a few works of fiction within the debate as well. Women certainly can serve in the military. Women certainly can hold high ranking positions in large corporations. Look at Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO of IBM.
As mentioned, women are groomed to believe that they cannot excel in many fields. Mathematics, sciences, law and most jobs which require physical aptitude are generally discouraged. The result of this cultural misconception is a perpetuation of the myth and a segregation of occupations.
The gender pay gap wasn’t eradicated with the Equal Pay Act. There are, of course, pure statistics which account for some of the disparity – women hold the majority of jobs in lower paying industries. But a large portion of the gap is attributable to bias.
Thankfully, the widening of that gap has slowed over the past several decades. Women have chosen to enroll in higher education, and some companies have chosen to ignore gender bias. But women still have a long way to go in closing the gender gap.