The Gender Wage Gap Myth

22 04 2017

Twice in the past week I found myself engaged in an ad nauseum facebook debate with different people about the gender wage gap. Specifically, people (all white cis hetero males) who believe that there is no wage gap between men and women, or that it is at least greatly exaggerated in the news. As an intellectual, I immediately was surprised by their position, and thought to myself, “Is he right?” And if so, where is the discrepancy in our positions?

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One anti-gapper claims that women actually make MORE than men in major metropolitan areas… (… if they are young… and single… and childless. And who knows what other factors.) And he was seriously using this to declare that the wage gap doesn’t exist. Which made me think, where the heck are these guys getting this information?? They aren’t making this stuff up. They really, truly have been convinced by someone, somewhere, that the gender wage gap is some sort of giant hoax perpetrated against men by (presumably) a very well-organized group of people with nothing better to do than spend their lives fighting a made-up inequality. When I read the drivel that this one person shared as their “proof,” I was appalled. I’d encourage you NOT to waste your energy reading this clickbait written by Ben Shapiro, but, as a critical thinker, I do like to cite my sources and let people read the original content… unlike this dude, who quotes some statistics with no way to actually fact check him, and relies heavily on an article from the Washington Examiner for most of his other support. (If you do choose to read this- brace yourself for contradictions within the article.)

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I generally do not engage with people who refuse to read data that contradicts their personal opinion, so after one or two exchanges, I will simply ignore them and move on to something more productive. Thankfully, I have some amazing male friends who stepped in to counter the arguments by the instigators of the “wage gap myth” argument. One even paused to apologize to me if he was mansplaining, and I thanked him for his endurance at arguing on the behalf of myself and all feminists. (See the end of the article for the entire Facebook discussion)

 

One privileged male, who is quite intelligent (we’re also related, so… ya know…), simply asked me, “Don’t you think that if companies could hire women for 20% less, they would, and men wouldn’t get the jobs?” That’s a great point, I thought to myself, since I had stopped responding to him on Facebook already. I wanted to get the answer. After all, maybe my data IS outdated. I assume the wage gap is shrinking, after all the hard work decades of women (and men) have put into understanding the reasons for the wage gap and trying to actively counter those.

 

So, I spent some time searching for current data to see if we have truly managed to eliminate the age gap. Is our struggle for equality finally over?!?

 

The answer is simply- NO. But, there was such a great depth of information, sliced and diced so many ways, that I thought it might be helpful to use this fact-based data to counter the points of those who simply choose to believe that there is no gender wage gap. My sources? The U.S. Senate’s Joint Economic Committee issued an update on this very topic, a detailed report titled, “Gender Pay Inequality,” published in April 2016. For those of you who don’t have the time to critically read all 58 pages of this report, perhaps the TOC will give you insight into the depth of research conducted to support each and every one of my following points.

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Myth #1: Men don’t make more than women… or if they do, it’s only 3-5% more.

First, even if it’s only 3-5% more- now, you may need to double check my math on this, I am a grrrl, after all, but- 3-5% more is still… MORE. Secondly, let’s look at the data. Typically we’ve been hearing the recited information that women make (pick your favorite number) 75 cents on the male dollar. Or 85% of what male equals get paid. Or somewhere in there, right? The fact is, there IS a lot of variation. It depends on things like race, age, parental status, location, etc.

gender wage gap by race

Myth #2: Today, female graduates make just as much as male graduates coming out of college.

It is absolutely true that the gender wage gap varies with age, so the gap IS much smaller at the start of your career. But, while there ARE cases where women graduates are earning equal pay to their male peers, it is not an absolute truth, and ignores the ramifications of even a slight inequality down the road.

gender wage gap age

So, let’s go back to that math thingy. It’s okay, I’ll walk you through it. Einstein once said, when asked how it felt to be the man whose inventions changed the world as we know it, responded, “I didn’t invent compounding interest.” So let’s say my recent college grad, Jill, is making just 1% less than her male counterpart, Jack. It’s just 1%, right? Don’t get your boxers in a bunch? They are smart kids, and make bank with their engineering degrees, and she’s still making $99,000 a year. So, when it comes time for a raise (assuming they both get that opportunity in the same amount of time), that first 10% raise translates into a BIGGER INCREASE in salary for Jack than Jill. So Jack now makes 110,000, but Jill only makes $108,900. The gap between them increased in just the 1st year of their careers. That means that, over the entire course of their careers, not only did Jill start out making slightly less, but every single raise she gets- even if identical in percentage, equates to less and less money than her male equal. Then consider the facts that she’s less likely to negotiate her raise, less likely to be given a raise as frequently as Jack, and her raise is likely going to be a smaller percentage (more on this later). Suddenly, at the end of her career, she’s retiring with significantly less earned income, less savings, and has less to retire on. In 2014, the median annual income of women ages 65 and older was $17,400, only 56 percent of men’s the same age.

Jill is 1.6 times as likely as Jack to live in poverty once they reach age 65, and nearly twice as likely to live in poverty once they reach age 75.

gender wage gap retirement

Myth #3: Women make choices that lead to them making less money

 

Holy smokes, this one is pervasive! Where to begin?? Phew! Okay, first, let’s break this down.

  1. Women choose to start families.

So…. You do know where babies come from, right? It generally involves a penis. Or at least semen. Do you know where semen comes from? Yes, good job! It comes from men. Historically, the burden of childbearing and childrearing were viewed as intertwined, and therefore it was “the woman’s job” to stay at home and raise the kids. In post-WWII decades, as women grew in the workforce and households became dependent on two incomes, somehow this concept persisted. Only in recent generations have we seen a normalization of men choosing to stay at home to raise the kids. And they still get made fun of for it by their peers. This is key.

gender wage gap mommy penalty

As long as we accept the norm that women should be the ones to sacrifice their careers and stay at home- even if only for one year- we are continuing to hold women back. “But some women want to stay at home!” you may hear. Well, duh, of course some of us are the gushingly parental types who couldn’t wait to make babies and stay home to rear them- which is WONDERFUL! But for the rest of the population, we are stuck with a reality that punishes men for staying home (ahem… paid MA-ternity leave), and encourages women to leave the workforce (“your job won’t be waiting for you”). In fact, not only do women get financially punished for having kids, but men actually make MORE once they start a family. Why?? Because regardless of having both  parents working full-time, it is perceived that women will be the ones who will take on more responsibility, and more time off, to haul kids to doctor’s appointments and soccer games, whereas men “have a family to provide for,” and therefore need more money. These subtle gender role norms lead to frequent subconscious discrimination when it comes to hiring, raises, and promotions.

gender wage gap family sacrifices

  2. If women want to make more, they should ask for more money.

Peer pressure, or societal norms, are a HUGE part of the wage gap problem, because they cause expectations and stress on women who choose to deviate from the norm. A lot of people don’t take the time to listen and learn about the differences in gender norms, but we all recognize them inherently. If a little boy gets in a scuffle in the playground, he might get reprimanded, but he’s just as likely to be taught how to punch back. Little boys are taught to “Speak Up!” and to “Be Assertive!” while little girls are taught “If you don’t have anything NICE to say, don’t say anything at all” and not to be “too pushy.” It’s hard to become the boss without being a little bit “bossy,” yet this word is used as a pejorative when applied to women and girls. Women are also taught to be appreciative and pleasant and “smile”…  not to be confident or demanding.

So what is the result? Only 15% of women feel that they are effective at negotiating,and as a result, just 16-30% of women actually negotiate their salary, according to Salary.com and Monster.com. Whereas men are taught to believe they are worthy of more, and to be aggressive, women aren’t getting that same foundation of confidence and self-worth. However, despite the outdated idea that women are less likely to ask for a raise, recent studies are proving otherwise. In fact, a 2016 study, revealed that women were 25% less likely than men to get a hike in pay when they asked for it. 

 

Myth #4: Women make less because they choose low-paying careers

Do you remember what I said about social norms and peer pressure? My mother was told she could either be a teacher, or a nurse. She’s very smart and wanted to be an engineer, but she ended up becoming a teacher instead. That was it. Nurse or teacher. Because those were careers deemed suitable for women. While we’ve made great strides in combating this reality, girls are still less likely to think they are good at math and science, and the STEM fields suffer from a lack of female workers.

 

It’s true that most careers that are primarily employing women make significantly lower salaries than male-dominated fields. but even in if we focus just on those jobs, there’s still inequality. Even within those female-dominated career paths, men still make more.

gender wage gap low paying jobs

Myth #5: Men actually make LESS than women in big cities

This one really piqued my curiosity. Location DOES matter. The fact is that women DO make more, percentage wise, in some big cities. HOORAY!! Instances of gender equality are wonderful and should be studied to expand to the larger platform!

There are a number of potential factors that lead to a smaller wage gap in big cities. Like…

  • Big cities are home to larger corporations, and international pressures focus more on gender equality than we do in the U.S.
  • There is more competition, and more risk of employees leaving to work for a competitor in a big city, so pay tends to be better for both men and women
  • Denizens of big cities tend to be more exposed to diversity, have different values, and are less prone to the ‘Good Ole Boy’ culture that still remains in many small towns
  • But, on average, men STILL make more than women, even in big cities

 

When you look at the wage gap broken down by congressional districts, you can also see a stark difference that correlates with the number of major cities in each district. But the areas with larger wage gap are not necessarily only rural. Just compare Austin, TX with Salt Lake City, UT, and you can see that being in a large city is not enough in itself to expect to earn closer to male counterparts. So, clearly, if I as a woman am willing to make a major move, I know which parts of the U.S. to avoid.

gender wage gap

Honestly, if I’m able to be mobile, I’m going to cast my net a little wider. There are plenty of other countries that are actively working to install policies to close the wage gap, that include things like new laws on transparency, paternity leave, and other methods to create a culture that values women equally.

gender wage gap world

 

Now, I’m not saying we should throw in the towel on gender wage equality here in the U.S. Our mothers and sisters before us have worked tirelessly to get us to where we are today, and I am incredibly grateful for their hard work! Now we also have phenomenal allies in our male feminists, who love and appreciate the women in their lives, and are equally passionate about breaking down the misogynistic history to help us get closer to true gender equality. We are making incredible progress, and the more we talk about this, the more we can consciously focus our efforts to eliminate the subconscious acts of discrimination. This can be as simple as paying attention to your choice of adjectives when  describing a boy and a girl doing the same activity or achievement. Is he bossy while she is confident? Is she nagging while he is persistent?

gender wage gap over time

Also, to go along with all the data, there are COUNTLESS stories that women are happy to share with you if you bothered to ask us what life is actually  like for us. I have a great example of wage gap reality in my personal life. After our company closed its doors in 2010, I found myself applying for the same job as my male colleague. Identical degrees. Similar work experience (mine was actually greater). Similar age. When my colleague decided to turn down the job offer for a better one, I asked him what they offered him. They offered me $5k less per year. That’s real wage gap. I happen to be educated on things like this, so I am an unusually tough negotiator compared to my female peers, but the best I could get was a pay equal to his original offer. So- YES- the wage gap is real, and I have personally been impacted by it.

 

And here’s that referenced Facebook debate where my friend Eric earns a GOLD STAR for being a fabulous male feminist!

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