Income Inequality between Men and Women

On April 10, 2018, women celebrated Equal Pay Day, which is really nothing to celebrate. Equal Pay Day is the annual day that marks when – finally – the average woman’s income has caught up to a man’s income. Sadly, it took an additional three months and ten days for women to finally earn what men earned in 2017.

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Women have been set aside from men since day one, and are still trying to catch up. It is usually assumed that women are the ones to do more of the household work and child care, which is one reason why women earn less money in the first place. Back in the 1920s when women were just beginning to enter the workforce, they were automatically paid less than men. In the 1930s women were required to be paid 25% less than men. Women were paid less than men because of what they were known for previously, which is to take care of the house and the children. Women continue to be paid less than men in their chosen profession, simply because of their gender, where they live, or because of events such as maternity leave. This leads to detrimental effects on the livelihood of women and shows the need to eliminate the gender wage gap.

In almost every occupation, men get paid more than women, which lead many people to believe that the reason men make more than women is only because of their gender. But in nearly all jobs, average earnings for women are lower than that of men (Hegewisch). It does not seem to matter if the occupation is mostly consisted of men, women, or even an equal amount of both men and women; men still make more money. Even in the most common female occupations such as nurses, elementary school teachers, and administrative assistants, men’s median earnings are more than $500 per week than women’s (Hegewisch). That $500 difference has a huge impact on women, resulting in them losing thousands of dollars every year. These thousands of dollars could be used in other areas of women’s lives, but instead, it is just cut off. Across almost all professions, women earn only 78 cents per dollar as compared to men. This translates into a loss of $10,000 per year, which could pay for 14 more months of child care, 74 more weeks of groceries, and an additional 10 months of rent for the average woman (Jones).

Stereotypes for specific jobs clearly play a role. A contributing factor to income inequality is the choice that women make regarding the profession they take interest in. By way of example, it is more likely for men to seek out top jobs in business and or government, resulting in men earning more money. Among physicians, for example, women are more likely than men to choose lower-paid specialties (though this does not explain all of the pay gap among doctors) (MAP). Women, starting as early as high school, need to be encouraged to pursue degrees and professions that are stereotypically male professions. Doing this will help close the gender wage gap and eliminate the stereotypical aspect of different professions, because if women start to join more male dominated professions, more and more women will be encouraged to join them, resulting in employers requiring to equal the incomes between men and women.

Another obvious example of the gender pay gap is one of the most popular entertainment sources in the world – sports. Men significantly get more money and attention than women. In sports, more likely than not, people like to watch men play more than women. This leads to men getting paid much more money. One of the biggest improvements in the sports world was the passing of Title IX. Title IX is a federal law that states: ‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance'(NCAA). Title IX led to colleges being required to give out scholarships to women athletes, further expanding women’s professional sports after college. Before Title IX was passed in 1972, there were no athletic scholarships available to women, and no championship games were held for women’s sports. Title IX was intended to enforce equal access to women’s athletics. But even with these advancements, there is still a huge difference between men and women athletes’ salaries. The only way to narrow this gap is for sponsors (such as Nike, Gatorade, etc.) and media networks to promote women’s sports the same as men, and for the owners of sports teams to pay female athletes more. This will encourage the decrease of the gender wage gap because if the women’s professional sports gets more attention, more people will want to watch it and find it more interesting, resulting in the athletes being paid a significantly larger amount than before.

Maternity leave is known to be one of the largest causes of the gender pay gap because women lose a significant amount of money from going on maternity leave and often never catch up. When men and women complete school and start working, they are paid almost the same amount of money. But that is before the gender pay gap appears, which significantly increases over their working years. Maternity leave usually occurs when women are in their late 20s and mid-30s. The main issue is that so many women have children, so it has a large effect on many jobs and incomes as, unlike women who are married and have children, unmarried women without children continue on the path to earn almost as much as men, but still lag behind. A stereotype exists that when women return to work after maternity leave, they will put forth less of an effort and will be less focused on advancing their position in the workplace. The research shows that this stereotype leads the employers to think that they need to pay them less because they think the women will act exactly like their stereotypes; less dedicated, less competent, and less efficient (Hardwick). Many companies in the United States have paid maternity leaves, but not all. However, when women take maternity leave (if their employer does not offer paid leave), they are not only missing out on their income, but they also can miss out on big opportunities, like a promotion. This puts women at a severe disadvantage because they could have had the opportunity to earn more money through a promotion, but they were not able to because of their absence at work. Maternity leave may not seem like it puts women at a major disadvantage, but it does because it lasts much longer than the typical 12 weeks that companies offer.

A further detrimental effect of the gender wage gap is the impact it has on the woman’s family. When a woman has to leave her job for a reason such as maternity leave, she may not get paid. This could mean that the family does not receive any source of income, and when the woman returns to work, she is behind on being eligible for a raise, bonus or promotion.

In some states, the gender pay gap is larger than others. The best place for women to work, where the gender pay gap is the lowest, is in Washington D.C. Female workers earn 89.5 cents per every dollar male workers earn. The state that has the biggest gender pay gap is Louisiana, where women earn only 65.5 cents per every dollar a man makes. Other favorable states are New York (86.6 cents) and Florida (84.9 cents) (MAP). Studies do not provide any clear explanations for why different states have different gender pay gaps; however, one explanation could be that major metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami force employers to pay women closer incomes to men to attract and retain good, diverse talent. The varying salaries between states are troubling to those women who work in the states that have a large gender pay gap because they may not earn enough money to have the option of moving to another state.

Gender discrimination also plays a large role in many different areas in the workplace, including income. When women are discriminated against by being paid less, this will negatively impact their motivation, productivity and work ethic. Some other significant results of discrimination in the workplace are being denied a promotion, or even a job itself. These types of discrimination against women constantly deepen the divide between men and women, and women have been trying so hard to eliminate that line for a very long time. About eight in ten women (78%) who say they have encountered gender bias at work say a ‘major reason’ for the difference in pay is that ’employers treat women differently than men’ (Chapter 4). For example, people believe that women are paid less than men is because of the myth that women do not negotiate well. The stereotype for women is to just be polite and agree on everything. This stereotype affects how women negotiate and managers hire (Hardwick), which should never be the case. This puts women at a disadvantage because they are afraid to ask for a larger income. Women feel as if they were to try and argue for a larger income, they would be turned down, which is why most women just accept the offer the employers give, resulting in them receiving a lower income than men. In a very telling experiment, a woman was asked to negotiate a salary for herself, and a friend. When she was negotiating for her friend, she asked for the same pay as men. But when she negotiated for herself, she asked for a significant amount less. (Hardwick) This demonstrates that women need to advocate for themselves as strongly as they do for others.

Like the passage of Title IX, another attempt is being made to eliminate the gender pay gap. Although it has not been passed into law, the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to offer equal pay for equal work. The bill would further punish employers if they are unable to justify why they pay women less than men. Also, the law would offer programs to train women to improve their negotiation skills. Each of these are important components of the Paycheck Fairness Act, but until it is passed, income inequality between men and women will continue on into the foreseeable future.

To have a chance at closing the gender pay gap, significant changes must be made by society as a whole. As to maternity leave, sadly, only women can bear children, so it immediately makes it unfair that women have no choice but to lose income and miss out on potential promotions at work. Employers need to make efforts into not holding maternity leave against women in pay and advancement. And laws such as Title IX and the Paycheck Fairness Act (if enacted) force colleges and employers to treat and pay women equally. Additionally, colleges can encourage women to pursue higher paying professions. Hopefully over time, these efforts will be taken into action and women will finally earn as much as men.

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