The pandemic changed just about everything –– but the gender pay gap barely budged. In 2020, women made around 83 cents for every dollar a man earned. Although that’s a steep climb from 1973 when women averaged just 57 cents of every male-earned dollar, it won’t hit parity until 2059!
Although the gap has narrowed slightly, it’s for all the wrong reasons. That’s because during the COVID-19 pandemic almost three million women left the workforce. Many were in low-wage, female-dominated industries. Their departure increased average earnings overall. Even more troubling, many never returned. In 2021, the percentage of women working or looking for work hit an over thirty-year low. Of course if you’re a working woman, the biggest challenge is making sure you are fairly compensated. So why is there still a gender pay gap?
If you’re unsure of exactly what the gender pay gap is, Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency helpfully explains that it “… measures the difference between the average earnings of women and men in the workforce. The gender pay gap is an internationally established measure of women’s position in the economy in comparison to men.” This is what’s known as the “raw gender pay gap.” The controlled gender pay gap doesn’t just look at the earnings differences between men and women but includes other factors like education, experience, and industry. In other words, it measures equal work for equal pay. Despite this, women still only make $0.98 for every $1.00 a man makes.
Two cents may not seem like a lot, but over a lifetime it can add up. Plus, this highlights discriminatory practices in a way that the raw data doesn’t. If you’re wondering why is there still a gender pay gap well according to Pew Research around 42% of women in the United States claim that they have faced some type of gender discrimination in the workplace –– far more than men.
Why It Persists
Career choice matters. Consider two newly minted lawyers, one male the other female. If the man opts for a career as a corporate litigator at a large firm and the woman becomes a public defender there will be an enormous chasm between their first-year salaries. At large firms a first-year associate can earn around 200K while public defenders can make less than 50K. Yet if they both became corporate litigators at a large firm, the woman might even out earn her male counterpart. In fields like publishing ,prepackaged software, and computer programming services women out earn men as well.
Returning to the lawyer example, one persistent reason for a pay gap is that women often take time off to have children. If they are on the partner track, childcare responsibilities can derail them. The irony is that men make more after becoming fathers. One big difference? Even today when many Millennial dads share parenting duties, working women are still responsible for most of the unpaid labor like grocery shopping and taking care of their children.
Another reason why there is still a gender pay gap is because men and women often make different career choices. A male with a highschool diploma might take a construction job –– work that holds a fairly high risk of injury while paying far more than the minimum wage. A similarly educated woman is more likely to take a job at a nursery school or in retail –– work that pays barely over the minimum. Women are more likely to be nurses, doctors are more likely to be men.
Of course much of this is changing. Growing numbers of women are earning degrees in STEM subjects which lead to higher-paying careers. In fact, women are over represented on college campuses. In 2021, women made up almost 60% of college students. In the U.S., there are now 1.5 million fewer college students compared with five years ago –– and men are responsible for almost 75% of the decline. This disparity has become so stark that some schools are actively trying to recruit more men. While some are opposed to offering greater opportunity to young males, many of whom may be white, it’s worth noting that in the U.S. there are literally millions of men in their 20s who aren’t working or in school.
While this number declined before the pandemic, it has been increasing recently. Young people who aren’t working or in school are a proven recipe for disaster including rising crime rates. As Jennifer Delahunty, a college enrollment consultant told The Wall Street Journal, “If you care about our society, one, and, two, if you care about women, you have to care about the boys, too. If you have equally educated numbers of men and women that just makes a better society, and it makes it better for women.”
If you’re a woman in the workforce, one of the best ways to reduce the pay gap is by honing your salary negotiating skills. Men consistently ask for raises more often than women do. Learn your worth and never accept less than what you deserve!
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