The Gender Wage Gap: What You Should Know

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It’s a fact of our working world that women are paid less than men, but the reasons and other details about this income disparity are not well known. Many of us with jobs in this economy are too busy counting our lucky stars and can’t be concerned with unfair hiring practices. Asking for a raise or demanding a higher salary in an interview may rock the boat enough to get you back on unemployment.

The discrimination that is present in the workplace isn’t new, and I don’t think that it’s something we should be so happy to accept, even in a bum economy. To quote Rocky (2006), “…if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth!” We’ve made a lot of changes to close the gender wage gap, and in some places it has actually reversed, but that doesn’t mean we can slack off.

By the Numbers

By most estimates, the national average pay gap puts a female worker’s salary at 77% of that of her male counterpart. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families the numbers vary by state; their data shows that a female worker’s income at around 84% of a male counterpart’s in California, and 64% in Wyoming. And those are just overall—minorities have it even worse. Look at the staggering fact-sheet for my fellow Alabama women.

There is, to some extent, a reverse gender gap as well. A New York Times article points out that, in some major metropolitan areas, single, childless women make up to 20% more than their male counterparts. The wage pendulum is starting to swing in the other direction, at least in a few cities (though this could be the ‘edge case’).

What’s Behind It?

Since it’s been studied, people have been trying to figure out exactly why women make less than men. Many point to maternity leave and motherhood as an explanation. There is some degree of economic risk in having an employee that may require some months off; it’s much easier to hire a man because paternity leave isn’t legally required in the U.S. In addition, it’s presumed that his female counterpart will need to take additional time off to care for the little one.

Another commonly cited reason is that women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men. According to the study, Who Goes to the Bargaining Table? The Influence of Gender and Framing on the Initiation of Negotiation, “framing situations as opportunities for negotiation is particularly intimidating to women, as this language is inconsistent with the norms of politeness…” Other studies have found that the women who do negotiate tend to be penalized for it, more so than men are.

And these are two potential reasons. Sociologists, economists, and other -ologists constantly work to find and explore new explanations.

What Can We Do?

That’s tough. What can one do about anything that’s engrained in society? President Obama has already taken a step forward with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which lengthens the statute of limitations for cases involving discriminatory pay. Katie Donovan, who lectures on negotiating to overcome the pay gap, has drafted legislation that will require businesses and payroll services to provide salary ranges to their applicants. We’re much closer to an equal business world than before, I believe.


What are your thoughts?

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