The most common retort to statistics about the gender wage gap is that women tend to choose lower paying jobs than men, resulting in the differences in incomes. As a response to their decision of voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act, Senate Republicans claimed that “The difference isn’t because of their genders; it’s because of their jobs.” Not only is this claim incorrect, it fails to account for the reasons why women end up in lower-paying fields.
There exist minimal underlying differences in the minds and abilities of men and women, yet there exist major differences in the incomes and jobs that men and women ultimately receive. Some of these differences occur as a result of contrasts in upbringing and the result of societal pressures.
Research done by the University of Michigan shows that parents pay their sons twice as much in allowance than their daughters for doing chores. On top of this, 70 percent of boys get an allowance while only 60 percent of girls do. From a young age, girls grow up with the idea that household work shouldn’t be rewarded, and when they grow up, they end up spending twice as much time on unpaid household work than men do, while men spend their free time in leisure.
In addition, numerous studies have repeatedly shown variations in parenting styles between raising a daughter and raising a son. Fear is often a cause of these discrepancies in parenting choices. For example, parents tend to think of their daughters as weaker, and in need of protection in dangerous situations and will impose more restrictions on their daughters than their sons. This eventually leads to decreased confidence, capability, and perception of their equality after women leave their parents’ house. This parenting leads to women who aren’t confident in their ability to be independent without someone to take care of them. Ultimately, they feel unequal to their male counterparts, and therefore might not have the confidence to take on roles that are in male-dominated fields or seek out job opportunities outside fields that are female-dominated.
As aforementioned, a common response to statistics on the gender wage gap cites the differences in job choices between men and women. But did they consider why there is a difference in job choice? It is not purely a biological or psychological incentive for women to choose lower-paying jobs in caring occupations. The most significant reason why women tend to choose caring occupations is because of historical gender specialization in patriarchal societies, in which women engaged in childcare whereas the men engaged in laborious activities outside of the home which would bring the economic gains. These gender specializations have little to do with actual differences between the minds of biological women and men, and more to do with the patriarchal cultures found throughout the historical world. However, caring occupations (eg. teaching) tend to pay significantly less.
With the rise of women’s empowerment movements, women are demonstrating their equal mental abilities in all fields, giving proof to the fact that women are equally capable of performing in male-dominated fields. However, women still don’t tend to choose these fields due to the persistent lack of female role models in historically male-dominated fields like finance or surgery. In addition, they are exposed to assumptions about what fields are supposedly “better suited for females”.
Ultimately, the gender wage gap amounts to a women getting paid 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, with worse pay comparisons for black, hispanic, and indigenous women. This is a result of not only differences in job choices, but several other factors including discrimination, barriers to advancement, the motherhood penalty, unequal distribution of household tasks between men and women, etc.
Sexual harassment is one of these major issues within businesses, especially affecting female workers. The #MeToo movement exposed the significant amount of stories regarding sexual harassment that women face in the workplace, and the major toll that it can take on someone. Fears of sexual harassment could lead to many women being discouraged to go into male-dominated careers, and lead to many women quitting high-paying jobs as a result of it or even being fired after speaking out about experiences.
Women are often subject to the “glass ceiling” in their opportunities for advancement within the workplace. Even with the qualifications and strengths that constitute an advancement in the corporate ladder, women aren’t given the opportunities due to promotional bias, often due to fears and stereotypes. Many might hold internal biases about potential motherhood for women and are more likely to give promotions to men (even fathers) over women with or without children.
Another common case of discrimination occurs when wage discrimination slips through the cracks when a man and a woman holds the same position with the same responsibilities, but with different job titles, leading to differences in pay.
Often the interview process looks different for women as well, filled with personal questions about children and plans to have children. Employers tend to avoid hiring women who might take a maternity leave, which is a form of discrimination in itself, and illegal. These questions have no indication on one’s potential performance in the job, and since men aren’t typically asked this question and could potentially take a paternity leave as well, women face unfair discrimination when being considered for a job.
Women with children are paid 4.6% less than women without children, with all qualifications and hours being accounted for. This wage gap is known as the motherhood penalty. In sharp contrast, men with children often get paid more than men without children and experience a fatherhood premium. In order to close this pay gap between mothers and fathers, a more equal share of responsibilities should be emphasized within households. This equality within households will have significant effects on easing the pay gap as stereotypes about motherhood will reduce in the hiring and work process, women will spend less time on unpaid household work, and women will be able to take advantage of more career advancement opportunities and will not feel unequal in the process.
Ceteris paribus (all other things equal), women still experience wage discrimination on nothing more than their gender. Statistics show that a woman earns 98 cents for every dollar a man earns in the United States, and more dramatic statistics exist for black, hispanic, and indigenous women. In addition, the more qualifications and education necessary for the job, the higher the controlled gender wage gap. Anesthesiologists have the most significant controlled pay gap in the United States, with a woman making 83 cents for every dollar a man makes (a $60,000 differences in annual income). Similar wage gaps exist in other high-level careers such as electrical/electronic equipment assemblers, computer operators, chemical system operators, engineers, etc. The more educated a woman is, the larger her hourly gender wage gap. A $3 hourly wage gap for those with a less than high school education becomes a $4 hourly wage gap for high school graduates and college dropouts, and then turns into a $9 hourly wage gap for college graduates, and ultimately becomes a $12 hourly wage gap for women with advanced degrees.
In the long run, there exist many ways to reduce and eliminate the gender wage gap. Government policies, legal protections, and alterations in business regulations are extremely valuable in combating the gender wage gap. One important business regulation is pay transparency — making businesses share details about how they distribute wages and the processes behind employment decisions. This will force organizations to modernize their approaches to employment and compensation and reduce closed-door negotiations and manager discretion practices, which all typically favor men. The gender wage gap is unequal and unconstitutional, and actions must be taken to eliminate this significant wage gap immediately.