You may or may not have heard of the gender pay gap before. You may or may not have been convinced of its validity, and its prevalence in our lives. However, regardless of what you may have heard before, gaining a greater understanding of the topic is a necessary step in achieving equity both in and outside of the workplace.
What is the Gender Pay Gap?
The gender pay gap commonly refers to the differences in income between men and women performing comparatively similar work. Despite being a complicated issue to study, and at times to prove, women are consistently paid less regardless of how researchers compare earnings between genders. According to data from Payscale, women are paid 82 cents to a man’s dollar on average. This gap widens when looking specifically at women of color and ethnicity.
The gender pay gap is generally calculated by dividing the median earnings of women by the median earnings of men, all of whom work full-time and year-round. The typical method of describing comparative monetary values by relating them to a white man's dollar may seem unintentionally obscure; for context, following the 2021 trend of a woman making 82 cents to a man's dollar, a woman working full-time and year-round would have earned 10,194 dollars less than her male counterpart.
If these trends remained consistent, she would earn 407,760 dollars less than her coworker in an identical forty-year career, and the amount lost is even larger for women of color. In more recent years, the recorded gap is slightly narrower than used in the example. However, the narrowing process is slow and at its current rate, the gender pay gap will remain until 2059.
What are the Causes?
When identifying the causes of the gender pay gap, it is important to note that there are a combination of factors which have come to be known in an OECD paper as “sticky floors” and “glass ceilings”.
Sticky floors generally refer to factors causing the gap in relation to social norms, gender stereotyping, and the accompanying penalties; for instance, a boss may assume a woman will be less qualified and committed to her work, and therefore offers her a lower starting salary than her male peers.
Glass ceilings refer to barriers blocking women from advancing their careers. One common example is the motherhood penalty. This example is prominent in work culture because it is common for caring responsibilities and part-time roles to be shared unequally in a relationship. Additionally, women are more likely to be assigned to or volunteer for uncompensated work, and face a “double-bind” when looking for leadership roles, and are negatively perceived when they negotiate on their own behalf.
What are the Effects?
One of the main forces driving the pay gap is the compounding of a lower starting salary following a woman from job to job. The lower salary has lifelong financial consequences. On the large scale, it directly adds to women's overall poverty levels, regardless of which age group is looked at. The number of women living below the federal poverty level is always 3-4% greater than the number of men, which equates to 13,128,000 more women than men living in poverty.
On an individual level, because women are typically paid less throughout their careers, women receive lesser compensations for retirement from pensions, social security, and other sources; disability, life insurance, and other benefits based on earnings are also smaller for women. This has a detrimental impact on families, who in increasing numbers have begun to rely on women’s earnings to make ends meet. Today, 42% of mothers with children under the age of 18 are their families’ primary or sole breadwinners. Closing the gender pay gap would provide these families with exponential financial aid and open the door for a larger number of women to join the workforce.
How to Accelerate the Narrowing Process
To truly create a solution that tackles the entirety of the gender pay gap, a multifaceted approach will be needed. Both sticky floors and glass ceilings will have to be addressed. Since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, it has been illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job strictly due to gender. However, more legal intervention will likely be necessary to completely address the issue.
Multiple states have started to pass equity laws. For instance, if employees had legal protections to ask about the salary of their peers with similar experience and duties, it would be easier to determine discrepancies in compensation. Likewise, if employers were barred from using information about an applicant’s prior income when negotiating payment, people would more likely be compensated fairly for their equal work.
Many pay discrepancies can go unnoticed, so requiring companies to regularly review compensation data would ensure that no trends point to inequitable pay. Increasing access to paid sick days and laying out a comprehensive family leave would also minimize job loss and provide improved economic security for all workers.
The gender pay gap is an important issue impacting millions of Americans each year. It is time for all teens to be informed and educate themselves about this topic. It is time for change.
Bleiweis, Robin. “Quick Facts about the Gender Wage Gap.” Center for American Progress, www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/03/24/482141/quick-facts-gender-wage-gap/.
Ciminelli, G., C. Schwellnus and B. Stadler (2021), "Sticky floors or glass ceilings? The role of human capital, working time flexibility and discrimination in the gender wage gap", OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1668, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/02ef3235-en.
Gascoigne, Charlotte. “The Real Reasons behind the Gender Pay Gap.” Timewise, 25 June 2020, timewise.co.uk/article/article-real-reasons-behind-gender-pay-gap/.
Glynn, S. J. (2016). Breadwinning mothers are increasingly the U.S. norm. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2016/12/19/295203/breadwinningmothers-are-increasingly-the-u-s-norm.
Miller , Kevin, and Deborah J Vagins. “The Simple Truth About The Gender Pay Gap.” PDF, 2018, www.aauw.org/app/uploads/2020/02/AAUW-2018-SimpleTruth-nsa.pdf.
“Racial and Gender Pay Gap Statistics for 2021.” PayScale, www.payscale.com/data/gender-pay-gap.
Spiggle, Tom. “The Gender Pay Gap: Why It's Still Here.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 May 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/tomspiggle/2021/05/25/the-gender-pay-gap-why-its-still-here/?sh=1a477ace7baf.
About the Author:
Harper Lindsay is a rising sophomore student. She was elected as vice president of her sophomore class and has a passion for Model UN and cross country. Harper is the founder of Food For Fidos, a nonprofit organization which contributes to the amount of dog food in Boston food banks, to support people caring for their pets throughout difficult times.