Several of you have asked for a post about the wage gap. I’ve held off, because it’s a huge topic – really, most of my own blog circles back to income one way or another. But I get that not everyone feels like spending a few weeks, months, or years on this stuff, so I’ll try to quickly bring you up to speed.
The bottom line is that researchers haven’t been able to account for all of the pay gap between men and women. We know that part of it is about informal caregiving, which still overwhelmingly falls to women. On average, thanks to our other commitments, we have less formal work experience, and that translates to lower income, though in many cases it means that we work more hours in total.
Nonetheless, even when researchers try to correct for differences in education and work experience, the gender gap persists, suggesting that something else is at work. Feministe commenter Sappho pointed us towards this US Census report, complete with a dizzying number of charts and graphs. It quotes a GAO report:
When we account for difference between male and female work patterns as well as other key factors, women earned, on average, 80 percent of what men earned in 2000… Even after accounting for key factors that affect earnings, our model could not explain all of the differences in earnings between men and women.
What’s the source of that additional 20 per cent gap? I’d say it’s some part straightforward sexism – unequal pay for equal work – paired with workplace atmospheres that discourage women from excelling. Unfortunately, this stuff is tough to measure. Part of it also probably has to do with negotiation.
Those who dismiss the pay gap as yesterday’s problem also tend to associate the gap that remains with choice in a very positive way. I think this has to do with the way economists view specialization – for more of my take on that, you can check out this post – but we should remember a couple things about caregiving and choice. First, don’t assume that women who work part time or are returning from a few years at home are paid less because they actually are less valuable than their male coworkers. It could just be a different sort of sexism – in all sorts of contexts, women are held to higher standards than men.
Second, this is not about individual choice – as Slacker, another commenter (what would I do without you?) pointed out: "reproductive choices of women in general affect labor market treatment of a woman whether she intends to have children or not." In other words, you’re likely to suffer from your employer’s expectation that you will have children and take time out to care for them, even if you never intend to take a maternity leave.
It’s true – the wage gap has a lot to do with the way we organize family life. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about how to close it.
As Kathy G. points out, Echidne of the Snakes has a written a full series of posts on the pay gap. (While you’re over there, also check out her superb Statistics Primer – it will make everything else easier to understand.) The National Women’s Law Center put together an excellent fact sheet for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act earlier this year, and it’s still worth a read. The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (there’s a mouthful!) put out a report called Behind the Pay Gap last year – check out the press kit.
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