Opinions, Column

Mending Attitudes and the Wage Gap

One of the most prominent and controversial issues surrounding the feminist movement is the gender pay gap. This is a phrase that has become somewhat contentious, with one side of the debate insisting that the concept is a myth, and the other presenting statistics that it is, in fact, very much a reality. This inequality is real, and it is harmful and insulting to half of the American population, a half that works just as hard as the other.

The gender pay gap is the relationship between what women earn and what men do. In a sense, it is a measure of gender discrimination in the workplace. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), this ratio is generally reported as women earning 80 cents for every one dollar earned by men, or any number relatively close to that, as it has remained almost constant for the past several years.

Part of the controversy, however, stems from the different data that is presented from numerous sources concerning the issue. Many of these sources research various types of job positions, economic situations, and education levels to discuss the disparity in wages, or the lack thereof. As the EPI states, “Different measures don’t mean the data [is] unreliable.” Naturally, the research and results presented by one source will differ from another based on which determining factor is used. There is undeniably a lack of consistency in how much of a gender pay gap exists from one career to another, but there can be no doubt that a gap does exist. It is a fact that on average, American women earn less than American men.

This fact is bolstered by a logical compilation of evidence. Women comprise a little more than half of the United States population, according to the most recent census. The Institute for Women’s Policy and Research reports that women represent almost half of the workforce in the country, and half of American families with children have women as either the sole or co-provider of the family. This immediately debunks any claim that women make less than men simply because fewer women work. Clearly, women are not underrepresented in the workplace. They are, however, underpaid. How is it fair that the children in families for which women provide live on 80 percent of what the children in families for which men provide do?

There are two different types of pay gaps that exist, both of which leave women earning less than men, and therefore less able to provide for their families: uncontrolled and controlled. The controlled gender pay gap exists between women and men who work the same jobs, yet do not receive the same pay. In this scenario, the gap ranges from below the median of 80 cents for every dollar to almost 98 cents, depending on the job, but rarely ever a one dollar equal pay.

The uncontrolled gender pay gap is what comes to mind for many who wave an impatient hand at feminists and slander the wage gap as a myth. This is a disparity created by opportunity, in which women are less likely to have higher-paying, higher-level jobs than men are. This inequality is created by the fact that fewer women are hired for these positions than men, and therefore never even have the opportunity to earn as much as their counterparts.

I have heard many proponents of the pay-gap-is-a-myth mentality say that these pay differences are generated by women simply being less qualified or experienced than men, or that women merely choose to work lower-level jobs. Not only is this a misunderstanding of the different types of gaps that exist and ignorance of the controlled pay gap, but this is also a complete falsification, as studies by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) have shown that level of education and experience have no effect on the gap. Yes, having a higher level of education and experience will increase a woman’s salary just as it would a man’s, but a gap still exists between women and men working the same job with the same degree of education and the same amount of experience.

According to the AAUW, women could once expect to reach equal pay with men in the year 2059. At least, that’s what studies said before the closing of the pay ratio began to slow in recent years. Due to this stagnation, the AAUW reports that women might be looking to the year 2152 to achieve fully equal pay. This is a ludicrously long time for women to have to wait to finally be able to earn as much as men do. This remnant of America’s sexist past needs to be fixed. Equality for all is what America strives for, is it not?

To close the gap, it is necessary to change the mentality that created this issue in the first place—the belief that women do not work as hard as men or have as much experience as men. This ideology is a painful reminder of just how comparatively new women are in the workforce and just how poorly they have been received by the men who used to exclusively dominate it.

President Barack Obama took some steps in the right direction while in office, including signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and creating the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force. While these measures did not completely close the pay gap as many had hoped, the show of support from the government was encouraging to feminists. Judging by the lack of women in President Trump’s current cabinet and his administration’s stance on women’s rights, the same level of support cannot be expected again anytime soon.

Legal action, however, would not be necessary to ensure equal pay for women if the country’s mentality evolved to support equal pay for equal work. This would require an acceptance that women are an indisputable pillar of America’s workforce and will continue to be in the future, not to mention the fact that it would be morally decent to pay people the same wages as anyone else doing the same job, regardless of their gender.

Women do not want to earn more than men. Women want to earn the same as men. I fail to see a problem with that. One day, in a few decades, this dream will be realized, and wage equality in America will finally have been achieved.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

March 29, 2017

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