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Can We Close the Gender Wage Gap?



Every college student knows how difficult and stressful the process of graduating college is and having to interview for countless jobs before landing the perfect fit.  This is what you have spent your whole life working towards; getting a degree so you can get a decent-paying job to support your newly established life.  You are probably curious about your starting salary and may even have thoughts about what your equally ranked colleagues are earning.

Gender Wage Gap History and Statistics

Most people have heard the term ‘gender wage gap’ get thrown around, whether it be in the news or in your career environment, but what does this term really mean?

You may ask yourself, what does the pay gap look like for newly college graduated students? Flores article, “The Big Difference Between Women and Men’s Earnings After College” shows the average women’s earnings 10 years after they first enrolled in college are lower than men’s earnings 6 years after first enrolling by approximately $4,000.

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This analysis relies on data from the College Scorecard, which measures earnings among all students who received financial aid, are no longer enrolled, and are working six years and 10 years after first entering college.

There are many factors that contribute to this college graduate pay gap, including the variation in college majors and career choices between men and women.  Another factor would be the difference in who enrolls in graduate school and for which program due to people being paid more for earning a grad school degree compared to a bachelor’s degree.  In general, women more often enroll in graduate programs with lower economic returns than those chosen by men.  More women are seen studying majors in public administration, health sciences, and education fields, while men tend to go into the STEM field: science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some research proves that women may need to earn their doctoral degree in order to earn as much as a male with his bachelor’s degree.

Flores, a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, goes on to say that women who received federal aid earned less 10 years after entering university compared to the annual earnings of their male peers only 6 years after entering.  “Among the most elite four-year private nonprofit colleges—universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton—male federal aid recipients earn $26,000 per year more on average than their female peers 10 years after enrolling. By contrast, the gender wage gap is approximately $10,000 per year for those from nonresearch private nonprofits.”  In the U.S. in 2018, women make approximately 80 cents to every man’s dollar.

The gender wage gap is often considered to date back to the 50s when women started entering the workforce.  Although it was quite uncommon for women to hold jobs outside of their homes, it was not completely unheard of.  A phrase that is very commonly used when talking about the gender pay gap is “equal pay for equal work,” meaning women do the same amount of work as a man, which implies women are being paid less just because they are a woman.  This falls right into the category of discrimination and even sexism.

During the 50s, it was completely legal to discriminate against women in the workforce.  This leads to employers posting ads specifically requesting male workers.  There were a colorful variety of reasons that attributed to the pay gap of the 50s and 60s including, lower female education rates, women’s rare involvement in the workforce in big numbers, and grouping in traditionally feminine industries.  All of these reasons come back to the base of cultural norms and gender roles.  More often than not, men would make women believe they can’t hold power, that they are less intelligent than men, and that women are supposed to be the homemakers and raise their children.

Nowadays, many of these beliefs and stereotypes have shrunk down a bit, but one belief that has stuck with us and played a large factor in our society is that women should raise children.  Along with women being the bearer of children, many people rely on women to be the primary caregiver, as well.  The researchers that worked on the Netflix Original Explained episode, “Why Women Are Paid Less” stated, “Even when women work full time when having children, as do male partners, women spend 9 hours/week more than him on childcare and housework. Over a year, that is equivalent to 3 months of a full-time job.”  So what is the true root reason for the gender wage gap?  It all comes down to women being paid less due to being a mom or the possibility of having children while being employed.  In other words, there is essentially a “motherhood penalty.”

Some believe that equal pay must come from changing the view that women are expected to be primary caregivers.  Some suggest that companies also need to consider pay-transparency as well as giving both male and female workers paid family leaves. In any case, the wage gap matters not just for woman but for families and society as a whole.

About Leah Miller

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