The wage gap is a buzzword of sorts, having been discussed by Patricia Arquette in her Oscar acceptance speech and by Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Despite its relevance as a mainstream topic of discussion, it continues to persist. But why does the wage gap occur? If politicians, actors, and the more than 5 million individuals who took part in Women’s Marches agree that gender based income inequality is wrong, why does it continue?
First, simply put, women are discriminated against in the workforce in everything from hiring to promotion to salary. Women, even when they are just as qualified as men, and even when they are more qualified than men, are less likely to get the job, the promotion, or the raise, for no other reason than that they are women. Furthermore, sexual harassment in the workplace plays a huge role in the wage gap. Over half (52%) of British women have reported being sexually harassed while at work. The consequences of such actions result in women leaving jobs, missing work, and being less focused in work settings, all factors which are a detriment when it comes to promotions, raises, and new job opportunities.
98% of occupations experience a wage gap. Logo from London Student Feminists.
In addition, occupational segregation contributes to the wage gap. Women, due to a multitude of reasons, are less likely to pursue certain careers. As late as 2000, 66% of American women were working in just 21 of the United States’s over 500 occupational categories. Further agitating this discrepancy when it comes to professional career paths, work daned ‘women's work’ is consistently worth less. Nurses aids, childcare workers, and cashiers earn significantly less income than perceived male jobs such as janitors, parking lot attendants, and construction workers.
Finally, women's role as mothers contribute, unfairly, to the wage gap. Women are nine times more likely than men to be stay at home parents, a number that has been increasing in recent years. Nearly 30% of American women are stay at home moms, a figure that has a drastic impact on the women who do chose to work outside the home. Because women are so much more likely to be a stay at home parent than men employers are less likely to hire, promote, and give raises to women of childbearing age. Furthermore, many women find it difficult to reenter the workforce after maternity leave, citing a devaluation of their work, hostility, and prejudice from coworkers. The prejudice that women face in terms of family planning does not just make it more difficult for them to achieve career milestones, but it results in them earning a lesser wage as well.
While the reasons why the wage gap occurs is key to solving gender inequality, the practical ramifications of consistent gender based income discrepancy can provide more relatable.
In the United States women make an average of seventy seven cents on the dollar. However, this oft stated figure does not tell the whole story. Everything from race, age, education, and location plays an integral part in how much an American women can expect to earn in comparison to her male counterpart. Asian American women are among the highest wage earners in the US, making on average 90% of what men make. Caucasian women follow close behind at 76% with African American women and Hispanic women rounding it out with 62% and 54% respectively. While race certainly plays a distinctive role in the future earning potential of American women, it is often indicative of wider socio-economic factors. As counterintuitive as it may first appear, education does not necessarily correlate to a smaller wage gap, in fact, there is substantial evidence otherwise. This could be compounded by the fact that the wage gap itself increases exponentially after the age of 35. Young workers at the start of their careers are much more likely to make equal salaries than workers further along in their careers. The wage gap is 90% for workers under 35. Yet after 40, income inequality between men and women becomes drastically more marked.
Female protester advocating for equal pay, by Nick Efford
In the United Kingdom women also make substantially less than men, especially in professional fields. As Theresa May remarked, “If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.” Despite this grim forecast, British women can rejoice in that hourly paid female workers actually make more than hourly male workers, by 6.5% or 52p an hour. However, on the whole British women still lag behind men in compensation, and the median hourly wage for women in part time jobs is 37% less than the hourly wage for women in full time jobs. This staggering figure contributes to the wage gap due to the fact that an astronomical 42% of the British female workforce consists of part time workers compared to a miniscule 13% of the male workforce. Because so many more women perform part time work, and get paid so much less for it, the wage gap in Britain expands. While the wage gap as a whole has shrunk in the last decades, women in professional fields, women in their forties and older, and women who have graduated university have made much less marked gains and in some instances even regressed. Comparatively, women in their twenties who work full time and women with GCSEs experience negative wage gaps. Similar to the situation across the pond, women as a whole make less than men in Britain, however a wide range of socio-economic factors from age, to education, to career path play a large role in determining the earning capabilities of women.
If continued inequality faced by women in the workforce is something you feel strongly about, if you want to work to help end the wage gap, if you are a women who has or eventually will enter the workforce, or if you have a mother, sister or friend who has, is, or one day will work, getting in