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Seeking equality: Examining the gender wage gap


Ever since John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963, the gender wage gap has slowly begun to close. But, despite the progress that has been made, the fact remains that women are currently paid between 77 and 82 cents for every dollar that is earned by a man, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. This huge disparity is hard to understand, considering the fact that women are now pursuing higher education at a much higher rate than men. Yes, it’s true. The Daily Free Press reports that 2 million women earned degrees in 2010 compared to 1.3 million men, yet women earned an average 82 percent of what men brought in. Women are decisively leading the pack in the attainment of every level of higher education. According to a report by NerdScholar, women earned 62 percent of associate, 58 percent of bachelor’s, 60 percent of master’s and 52 percent of doctorate degrees in 2010.


Why do women earn less than men?

So, why is it that women are still earning less? If you’re searching for answers, you may find that there are a wide range of theories explaining why women’s earnings are consistently trailing behind men’s. The Gender Pay Gap: A Closer Look at the Underlying Causes reports that women’s lower earnings may be explained by the choice of careers most commonly pursued by each gender, and studies have shown that women do dominate some of the lower-paying fields of employment. According to the report, the jobs that women have commonly chosen to work in — like healthcare support occupations, teaching, clerical work, and administrative jobs — can account for as much as 22 percent of the gender wage gap. The report also revealed that women are much less likely to negotiate for higher compensation, with only 7 percent of women trying to negotiate pay compared to 57 percent of men.

Some occupations and industries in particular tend to pay women much less than men, according to the The NerdScholar Equal Pay study. This study used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2011 to compile a list of the 10 worst and 10 best jobs in terms of women’s pay. Results show that female financial advisors and loan officers earn on average only 61 percent of what a man earns for doing the exact same job. Female insurance agents, financial managers, chief executives, and education administrators make less than 70 percent of the annual income earned by their male counterparts. Despite the norm, there are many other industries that defy the gender pay gap by paying women a salary similar to what men are paid. These occupations include police officers (98.9 percent), receptionists (99.8 percent), medical scientists (102.3 percent), and accounting, auditing, and bookkeeping clerks (100.3 percent), according to the study.


In addition to the impact of industry specific pay disparities, women also commonly have to take time off to care for young children or for maternity leave. According to a study by Stanford University, The Gender Pay Gap, this absence can make it harder for women to move up the ladder. Women may also be missing opportunities due to the fact that they tend to take on the role as main caregiver for children and may dedicate less time to their career due to that responsibility.

The gender wage gap may even be worse for certain populations of women, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The center reports that the wage gap “is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together, with African-American women making only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 55 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.” These statistics obviously pose a problem for those who say that women are paid less based only on personal family choices or their common choice of lower paying professions.

So, what can be done to close the gender pay gap?

According to The Street, women take home an average of $11,084 less in median earnings than men do every year due to the income disparity between genders. In the 50 years since the Equal Pay Act has been signed into law, some progress has been made, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which re-established a prior law making each discriminatory paycheck a separate act of discrimination. However, claims for that are limited to 180 days, effectively weakening women’s bargaining powers. It may be right to ask then is enough being done? Some experts suggest that it may be time for the federal government to create additional legislation to ensure that women are being paid their fair share. Some proposed legislation includes mandating that employers notify employees how much their co-workers are paid. It has also been suggested that the government require businesses to formally submit a reason for unequal pay. Outside of government intervention, women may also want to take extra time to research any position they are applying for in order to determine what others are being paid in the same industry.

Until the gender wage gap is closed, women may continue to feel shortchanged. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Despite the amount of research being done, it appears that the factors leading to unequal pay for women can sometimes be hard to gauge. In the meantime, it’s important for women to know their worth and to speak up if they feel that they aren’t being treated fairly. Asking for a raise or demanding equal pay may not be enough to make it happen, but making your voice heard may be the first step toward equal pay for women.

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