The Gender Wage Gap: Introduction
In 2009, women working full time year round in the United States earned an average of 77% of what men working full time year round earned (Gender and Society, 2006). This leaves a gap of 23% in the payment. This has improved since the 1950 after the passing of the Equal pay Act largely due to the progress women have made in education and participation in the labor force and low rise in men’s pay rate increase, but the gap still exists. Hegewisch, Williams, & Henderson, (2011) say that the agitation for equal pay between men and women is not simply for advancing women’s course but it all comes down to the family. This is because families have come to rely more and more on women pay to meet their needs.
A study conducted in 2008 reports those women’s salaries accounted for 36% of total family income which is an increase from a 1983 findings of 29% (Hegewisch, Deitch, & Murphy, 2011). More and more mothers are joining the labor force and one third of them are sole breadwinners of their families. 34% or working mothers are the sole bread winners in their families either because they are single mothers or their spouses are not working for one reason or another. This being the case a gap in the earnings between men and women would put the families supported wholly by women in a poorer state in terms of nutrition, living conditions and reduced opportunities for their children.
The gender pay gap refers to the difference in the men’s and women’s median yearly earnings presented as the earnings ratio between men and women working full time year round (FTYR) or the actual pay gap as Weichselbaumer & Ebmer, (2005)outlines. This is outlined in the following equation:
- Earnings ratio= women’s median earnings/Men’s median earnings
- Pay gap= (Men’s median earnings- women’s median earnings)/men’s median earnings
The gap between men and women pay has been reported to have substantially reduced since 1963 as a study by Gender and Society, (2006) shows. This followed the signing into law of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 by President Kennedy. The Act made it illegal to pay men and women working for the same organization different wages for “substantially equal” work (Kivel, 2002). At that time the difference in payment was huge with the ratio of women to men’s average pay being 58 percent. The gender wage gap have decreased but not fully wiped out. This decrease has been attributed to decrease in labor market discrimination against women but this discrimination persists.
Explaining gender gap
Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 laws to protect women against discrimination in the in workplace as regards payment has existed. This may not be the intention of employers but it the difference in earnings between men and women still exist (Goldin, 1990). There are explanations for this as provided in three theories.
Overt discrimination refers to openly setting some groups aside some for unfair treatment. Employer deliberately set the women salaries unfairly which is different from their male counterparts in the same job. This is done by setting rules that unequally distributes rewards by mainly white male employers who are the dominant in the society and in the labor market (Weichselbaumer & Ebmer, 2005). Researchers in the gender wage gap urge hat dominant groups will use their positions of power to advance their course. An example of this is the labor unions that historically left out women and minority groups form the well paying unionized jobs. Again a more common discrimination is sexual harassment of women in especially traditionally male dominated occupations. This is an effort by men to preserve the notion that women are sexual objects for men’s pleasure and a means protect men’s advantage in the labor market (Anderson & Taylor, 2008).
Human capital theory is based on the assumptions that the economic system is just and competitive for both men and women and the gap in earnings is as a result of individual characteristics the worker display in their jobs. These characteristics include experience, number of hours worked, age, education and marital status. These affect women in that they influence their worth as employees. Example women who are on child bearing age and have family responsibilities are disadvantaged when it comes to their earning power. This is however not the case when comparisons are made between men and women at possessing these characteristics as men at the same level (Anderson & Taylor, 2008). The wage difference is still there.
Dual labor market theory is the third explanation for the differences in earnings between men and women. This gives the explanation that wage differences arise from the fact that men and women work in different labor segments. Women are said to work in jobs that attract low wages and low benefits. In this theory it seems women’s work is not given much value and therefore low wages and even when the principle of equal work is applied women are already disadvantaged (Anderson & Taylor, 2008).
The Council of Economic Advisers, (1998) also attributes the long standing differences in average pay between men and women to labor market forces. These include difference in characteristics that men and women bring to their occupations, different characteristics of the jobs in which women and men work and also the discriminatory behavior towards women by their employers and co-workers. These factors interrelate in different and intricate ways. This makes it hard to determine how much influence the discrimination in the work places against women and the difference in job preferences by female workers have on the female/male pay.
This could be explained by situations where women may possess less experience than men and therefore choose jobs that require less experience ids required. Alternatively if women consistently chose occupations that are different form those of men, stereotypes enter the scene about women’s capabilities and this will give employers a chance to discriminate women. Employer on the other hand may consistently make it hard for women to penetrate certain professions and this will in turn reduce women’s interest in them or incentives for training in them (Gender and Society, 2006).
In another report Goldin, (1990), says that naturally men and women differ in their jobs and also in their responsibilities at home for their families and children and also spouses. These differences affect their work at home and also in the job market. However, skills for both men and women have become more similar and also the occupations and industries in which they work. This being the case Hegewisch, Williams, & Henderson, (2011) says that huge differences still exist between men and women personal and occupations features that play a role in their relative wages leaving a gap in their pay. This could only be attributed to discrimination against women in the labor market.
Trends in Gender wage gap
In the 1950 the gender pay gap was at 58%. This began an upward trend and by mid 1950s was at 60% surpassing 70% in the 1990s and in 1997 the gap was beyond 75% according to Waldfogel, (1998). This was a rapid increase which was also shown in the period between 2000 and 2008 where the ratio of women earnings relative to that of men increased from 73.7% to 77.1%. Claims have been made that the gender pay gap is closing but it is difficult to determine that as scientists say if one looks at the chunks of years separately.
Gender discrimination in the labor force
Gender discrimination in the work place takes many forms. It may range from practices that reduce women’s chance to be hired to difference in the payment between women and men who perform the same duties everyday side by side and do it equally well (International Labour Office, 2010). Gender discrimination in the work force may be explained by many theories. There are cases where an employer does not like female employers in his establishment or underestimate their capabilities not because they have been tried and tested but arise from their own prejudices. In other cases customers do not want to be served by female employees or they underrate their abilities again due to prejudices.
Male employees may refuse to work with women as their coworkers. This is not aimed at towards all female employees but women in positions of power in an establishment. There is also another thing social scientists call statistical discrimination. This simply means that in hiring female candidates are not taken based on the based on average what women are thought to be. An example is where statistics show women have higher turn over rates than men; they should higher a male candidate as the female candidate is likely to leave the company. This is discriminatory since hiring decision should be based on individual not presumptions about gender.
Gender Pay Gap and different demographics
The gender pay gap is not confined to any demographic group. It affects women of all occupations, backgrounds, age groups and levels of education achievement but the difference in earnings gay vary depending on an individual woman’s circumstances (Anderson & Taylor, 2008).
Wage gap and racial/ ethnic groups
According to (The Council of Economic Advisers, 1998) white men earn more than women with the gap being wider between white men and white women in America. Even in other racial and ethnic groups in the country such as African American, Latinos, and Asian/Pacific Islanders men generally earn more that their women counterparts. In 2001 white women earned 73.4% of white men’s pay and black women earned 84.8% of their male counterparts.
When we come to the difference in race and ethnicity of women themselves, a 2010 report by Hegewisch, Williams, & Henderson, (2011) shows that among the full time year round women workers, Hispanic, Latina, and African American women had a lower mean weekly median earnings than the white and Asian American women. Within the racial groups themselves and between men and women the study showed that African American, Latina and Hispanic women had a smaller gap in relation to their male counterparts. The white and Asian Americans on the other hand, had a bigger gap in relation to their male counterpart s than the former group.
By using the white male workers as a bench mark, another study reported by Solberg & Laughlin, (2010) shows that Asian American women have the smallest gender pay gap at 91% compared to the white male’s earnings for the year 2010. The biggest gender pay gap was reported among the Hispanic and Latina women’s earnings which was 60% of the white men’s on average. The smaller pay gap reported between Hispanic, Latino, and African American women and men is attributed to the fact that these men earn substantially less pay than the white men do.
The influence of education in pay gap
Higher levels of education increase both and women and men earnings but there are no evidence that the wage gap between men and women narrows as the high levels of education. Evidence shows that actually the opposite happens that at the highest levels of education is widest (Anderson & Taylor, 2008).
The wage gap and occupations
According to Goldin, 1990) gender wage gap exists in every occupational category. The Bureau of labor Statistics reports in 2010 that in the 111 occupations that it surveys only four shows a substantial higher pay for women than men in similar levels. This includes counselors, food preparation and serving workers, store clerks and order fillers and bill and account collectors. This an insignificant number compared to all the sampled occupations that were surveyed.
It is a common believe that women who move to the male dominated jobs will be receive a pay equal to that of her male counterparts but evidence show that this does not happen (Gender and Society, 2006). Similarly moving to senior positions or higher paid occupations whether male dominated or not does not have the effect of reducing the earnings gap. Also occupations that are associated with women or stereotypically seen to need feminine skills are viewed as less impressive and therefore do not deserve as much pay as those that are viewed as requiring masculine skills. This therefore brings the conclusion that as more women enter a certain profession it will result to this occupation being undervalued and therefore less and les pay and the opposite is true for the jobs that attract more and more men (Gender and Society, 2006).
In a survey by the of the U.S civilian workforce of 139 million full time and part time workers in 2010, 53% were men and 47 were women. 39.7 of women workers were employed in traditionally female jobs such as social; work, teaching and nursing. Interestingly only 4.5% of men worked in these areas. In the traditionally thought of male jobs such as engineering, firefighting, computer programming 444% of all men worked in these fields and only 5.5% of women were employed there. Women showed a huge interest in professions such as administrative support, sales, service occupations while men seemed to prefer construction, maintenance and repair, and production and transportation occupations.
Gender discrimination in occupations has decreased and women have moved to traditionally male dominated jobs. This has shown improvement in women wages but it has not been able to successfully close the gap between men and women pay even among these occupations. A woman computer programmer may earn more than her counterpart in nursing everything being constant like age, position, education level and experience but there will still be a gap between her salary and that of her male counterpart. All these factors demonstrate that there requires more effort than just women moving to male dominated careers to close the gap in waged between men and women. Stakeholder such as an individual, employers and government to bring fairness in pay in our job markets (International Labour Office, 2010) could do many things.
Age and Gender wage gap
Generally, wages for both men and women working full time show an upward trend with age reaching a plateau after 45 years and a dropping trend after age 65 (Solberg & Laughlin, 2010). This upward trend is also replicated by the pay gap between men and women. This means as women workers grow older the gap between their earnings and that of men workers in similar age group increases. The gap is smaller among younger workers. A report of the 2009 data shows that women workers of between 16 and 19 years earned 91% of the men in the same age group (Hegewisch, Williams, & Henderson, 2011). In the same year women of 65 year and above received 76% of the men’s earnings in the same group. Generally the report says that until age 35 women earn 90% of what their peers receive and that it is at this point the median pay of women start growing more slowly than that of men in the same age group. This falls to 70-80 % of median wages of men and remains at that range until they retire.
Working hours and gender wage gap
Gender wage comparison studies are done on women and men who work full time and year round. This therefore excludes part time women workers. Research shows that the gap in earnings between men and women who work an ordinary week of 40 hours are different. As the hours increase the gap widens. Women working on 41 to 44 hours per week were shown to work earn 84.6 % of men working the same hours per week. Similarly women spending 60 hours per week on their jobs were earning 78.3% of what men working the same hours earned (Solberg & Laughlin, 2010). In order to receive promotions women worked longer hours but not to access a higher pay. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that women school principal’s work 3 years longer than their male counterparts as teachers before they are promoted as principals. This therefore eliminates the notion that women earn less than men simply because they put in fewer hours than men.
Laws have been put in place to eliminated wage discrimination in work place. However not everybody agrees that the wage gap between men and women is due to discrimination against women. (Solberg & Laughlin, 2010) says critics believe that wage disparity could be as a result of non-discriminatory factors. These he says include weekly vs hourly wages which work to the disadvantage of women because they work fewer hours a week than men due to their other commitments and responsibilities at home which eliminates one third of the gap. The other factor is education, experience, occupation choice and union status. These he says men have more than women, which propels them to industries and occupation that pay better. This accounts for the other percentage left by 62%. The remaining disparity of 6.2 cents (cite) says that accounts for the maximum discrimination.
Government’s role in ending racism
Racism is a complex problem that presents difficulties in categorizing it due to its implications. If it is looked at as amoral issue, it will create social problems that will require the involvement of political means in devising ways to deal with it (Government of Quebec, 2006). In America the government has not done enough to address this social issue which still exist and could get worse if not handled well. The government can not be able to control how people feel inside about others or suppress their prejudices that are hidden in their hearts, but it the actions that result from such prejudices can be controlled to an extent. The government makes laws against discrimination of individuals due to their race or ethnicity in employment, payment, and housing and other aspects but somehow this happens. The employers scrutinize their job applications in the spirit of getting the best candidate but somehow these shrewd people manage to recruit the person who represents the “look” that their establishment “need”.
In the housing, building, homeowners and neighborhood associations fight hard and manipulate the system to keep their neighborhoods “intact” (Kivel, 2002). The question that one asks is whether this is the neglect and laxity of the government or really a sign of moral decay and also where the moral concern and political responsibility start. The American constitution outlines the inalienable rights of every individual in the country and should always fight to ensure these rights are not denied. Fighting racism would not be a one off task but will require continuously making laws that guard this right as the population of the country becomes diverse and new challenges arise.
The federal government should formulate and adopt an action plan for dealing with racism and discrimination may it be in places of work, schools, neighborhoods or in the housing sector. This should be done with consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. The action plan should outline priority themes such as in employment and payment in which the actions should revolve around. An example of such an action plan was developed and adopted by the Canadian government, which went ahead and allowed the states to make their action plans (Kivel, 2002).
The federal government should also make a directive to state governments to adopt laws that will guarantee better protection of cultural communities against bias. This should require then to set minimum standards for equal treatment within the country in terms of racial equality and employment equality (Kivel, 2002).
The state governments should adopt laws that require public sector employers make audits on a regular basis to address the gender pay differences. This should require them to eliminate pay differences between men dominated jobs and female dominated occupations that require comparable levels of expertise (Government of Quebec, 2006). Employers should design a tool that will help them to compare different jobs on different aspects such as complexity, level of responsibility and skills required the depth and breadth of skills required, physical working conditions among others. This will help identify jobs though different are on the same level and compare salaries between men and women and make the necessary adjustments. This has been adopted by the state of Minnesota and other states need to outline such a directive.