By now, it’s pretty well established that women generally earn less than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working full-time earn 77% of what men working full-time do (median earnings).
However, that’s a simplification that only reflects the bigger picture. According to “The Gender Pay Gap,” a study published by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, the pay gap is much more complex. Women do earn less than men overall — but the “real” gap for women doing the same work as men is about 91 cents on each dollar earned by men.
While it’s a much smaller pay gap than what’s generally shown, it still represents a degree of inequality in women’s versus men’s pay.
But why does it exist? There’s no single answer.
Factors Influencing Women’s Pay
It would be nice to be able to point to one cause and say, “This is the reason. Fix it.” There are many complex factors at play, some of them related to lifestyle choices.
Here are some that could be to blame:
- Starting salary: Men are more inclined to negotiate a higher starting salary. There are some indications that women might leave as much as $500,000 on the table over their lifetimes, just because they didn’t start out asking for a salary that a man would ask for. Since starting salary provides the basis for promotions and raises down the road, it’s virtually impossible to “catch up” once you fall behind.
- Unions: According to the paper, men are more likely to have their salaries protected by unions. They’re also more likely to be members of these unions, which can account for as much as 4% of the pay gap.
- Career choice: The biggest factor, though, is career choice. While there’s no rule that says men can’t be elementary school teachers and women can’t be engineers, the reality is that these careers are still heavily gendered. An elementary school teacher is lucky to end her career with the salary that an engineer can command from his first day on the job.
Another consideration is lifestyle choices. While there are more stay-at-home dads now than ever before, women are still far more likely to be caregivers. This often means spending years out of the workforce — and giving up earning power.
In the end, it may not matter to you if you make less — if you can do a job that you like and that allows you the flexibility to live the life you want.
Yes, there’s still discrimination. And yes, there’s still inequality when it comes to men and women getting paid for the same work. But the gap isn’t as wide as you might think, and the causes aren’t so easily fixed.
Does the wage gap bother you? How would you fix it?