By the time American women and men have equal pay across the board for performing the same job, there could be passenger vehicles zooming along a superhighway in the clouds; a worldwide population fluent in every language; medical checkups conducted by cellphones; and people routinely commuting to Mars.
In other words: Welcome to the year 2152! Yes, we are a mere 135 years away from gender equality on the pay scale.
Let’s peek into the world of your great-great-great-great grandchildren. It’s a time of souped-up technology, unimaginable social and political advances and, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the predicted year when America’s gender wage gap is projected to finally become a non-issue.
The AAUW came up with the year 2152 estimate based on the slowed-down changes from 2001-15. Maybe the projections will run a decade or so sooner. Maybe it will happen a few years later.
Either way, the pace of progress, is glacial.
According to 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average woman earns about 81% of what men make. For a woman holding a full-time, year-round job, the median annual pay is $40,742, while a man with a full-time, year-round job has a median annual salary of $51,212. That is an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.
“Progress has been so slow in the last few decades,’’ said Rutgers University’s Teresa Boyer, an assistant professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations. “While we have done a better job of awareness about the gap, the complexity of its influencing factors makes it hard to easily explain, and to address with anything like a silver bullet.’’
Victoria Budson, executive director of the Harvard University Women and Public Policy Program, agreed that it’s a complex issue. She said it’s “really a mosaic of characteristics that create the wage gap.’’
Budson also pointed out that the wage gap is not just a man-woman issue. “More than anything, it’s intersectional,’’ she said. Compared to the wages of a white male, the average black male (74% of what a white male makes), Hispanic male (69%), black female (67%) and Hispanic female (62%) also are lagging behind.
But the man-woman dynamic is the most common comparison.
At the current rate, a typical 20-year-old woman starting full-time work today would lose approximately $418,800 over a 40-year career compared to a male counterpart. If he retired at age 60, she would have to work 10 more years (to age 70) to close that lifetime wage gap and make up the difference.
What are the major factors for this wage disparity?
Gender Bias: Same Job, Less Money
It boils down to numbers and in many cases, they are undeniable.
In a 2016 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it analyzed the salaries of 10,241 doctors at public medical schools in the U.S., adjusting for factors such as age, experience, specialty, number of patients seen and amount of research published.
Male doctors made almost $20,000 more annually than female doctors.
In a 2016 analysis by career review site Glassdoor, male computer programmers made 28% more than female computer programmers, based on 505,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees. In all tech-related jobs, when women and men were identical in age, education, occupation, industry, company and job title, the male worker made an average of 5.9% more.
“There’s even research showing when companies give the same ratings within a performance evaluation, when women are rewarded for that performance, they receive less,’’ Budson said. “We have closed the education gap and even reversed it so the majority of people receiving high school, associates, bachelor’s and graduate degrees are female. But closing the education gap didn’t close the wage gap. Clearly, it’s not an issue of education and it’s not an issue of talent.’’
Meanwhile, women working in low-salary occupations such as fast food, child care and home health care typically make about 85 cents on the dollar to the men they work beside in the same job.
Women Fight Stereotypes
Whether these factors are conscious or unconscious, the results of several studies are interesting to say the least.
According to a 2012 experiment by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), two potential lab managers were presented to science professors through identical resumes. One was named “John.’’ The other was named “Julie.’’ The professors judged the male applicant to be significantly more competent and offered an annual salary of nearly $4,000 more.
In a 2014 study at the University of Maryland, gender bias was detected even with computers. With two identically performing computers — one called “James’’ and another “Julie’’ — users rated the female-moniker computer as having a 25% percent lower monetary value.
“We see both implicit bias and sometimes explicit bias,’’ Budson said. “Implicit is where we don’t see a person fully as they are. Instead, we see them through the lens of race, gender, age or a combination of those factors.’’
More Women in Low-Wage Jobs
Women comprise about two-thirds of workers in jobs that typically pay less than $10.50 an hour, even though women make up slightly less than half the work force overall.
A study using U.S. Census data from 1950-2000 showed that when more women entered a field, the pay went down incrementally, even though the work never changed. Comparisons of lower-rung jobs consistently show higher wages for men. For example, janitors earn about 22% more than maids.
Caregiving a Factor in Gender Bias
Women are more likely to leave the work force for family reasons, whether it’s to have children or care for them, especially in the early years. Sometimes, a consistent career track never gets started. In a lower-paying job — with a lack of family leave and benefits such as sick days — the high cost of child care almost makes it counter-productive for the lower-earning parent to work. That means many women never gain the years of experience necessary to advance up the ladder and earn much higher wages. The interruptions have a significant impact on long-term earnings.
“The gender wage gap certainly isn’t going to close on its own,’’ said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, the Director of Family Policy at the Center for American Progress. “In order to make progress, we need to push forward policies that would help reduce the wage gap. We need to enact family policies, including comprehensive, inclusive paid leave and childcare that help people — both women and men — balance caregiving and work responsibilities.’’
According to the Pew Research Center, roughly four-in-10 mothers said that they had taken a significant amount of time off (39%) or reduced their work hours (42%) to care for a child or other family member. Meanwhile, 27% of them said they had quit work to take care of family responsibilities.
Only 24% of fathers said they had taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.
Will Anything Change in Gender Pay Bias?
Will things change in the future?
Equal pay laws could be strengthened. The minimum wage could be raised. More benefits could be added, such as paid family and medical leave, flexible work schedules and affordable child care.
But what about other symptoms?
In her book, “Women Don’t Ask,’’ Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda Babcock suggested that women aren’t predisposed to make career demands.
“It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask,’’ Babcock wrote. “Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible — they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.’’
Budson rejects Babcock’s premise as it relates to the workplace.
“The idea that if we could just train up the women, that if we could just teach the women to negotiate better then the wage gap will close, that’s old thinking,’’ Budson said. “Women’s negotiation skills can certainly help close the wage gap, but the gap doesn’t reside in women’s inability to negotiate. It resides in women’s understanding that unless they negotiate carefully, they will receive social backlash. It resides in the fact that businesses regularly do underpay women and discriminate against them. It’s a cultural issue and it’s going to take changing social norms and customs.’’
In recent years, though, there has been a slight shift. Surveys from past generations indicated that women changed jobs because of dissatisfaction with the boss or the search for a better work-life balance. But a report on Millennial women, done by the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), said that members of younger groups change jobs for three main reasons:
- Lack of pay
- Lack of learning and development
- Shortage of meaningful work
Millennials are expected to comprise 75% of the work force by 2025 — with women accounting for 50% of that total — so managers everywhere are interested in the data. The ICEDR report said women at age 30, who once said motherhood and work-life balance decided their career priorities, now are motivated by higher pay and professional development. The professional goals of Millennial women and men are closely aligned.
“I think it would make a great difference to make paid leave a priority for every member of the work force — including men,’’ Boyer said. “It has been proven to increase women’s attachment to the work force, giving more opportunities for growth, advancement and higher pay, while still being able to do caregiving. More importantly, when the leave is also used by men for the same reasons, it reduces the penalties that women often pay for taking those caregiving roles.’’
“If we’re going to crack the difficult challenge of closing the wage gap, that takes place through a broader system of effective talent management,’’ Budson said. “It’s not just paying men and women equally for the same job. It’s also allowing women the opportunities to compete and ascend into those senior positions when they have equivalent or greater skill. It’s also the cultural piece of getting comfortable seeing women as executive level leaders.’’
Perhaps more progress will be part of the future. Or will the gender pay gap continue to be a thorny issue until we are transported through the clouds in our hard-to-imagine passenger vehicles?
Time will tell, but for many working women, this story has featured the same ending for as long as they can remember.
Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.
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