March is Women’s History Month and March 8th is International Women’s Day. This is an important time to reflect on the contributions of women, as well as the things that we all need to do to move equity forward even more. This week, I’m focusing on what still needs to be done.
Even though it’s 2020, women still have a long way to go in terms of equality. Our society, corporations, and governments need to do the bulk of the work in order to make things better, but there are still things that we as individuals can do for ourselves. And a big piece of that is asking for more money at work. Money is a major factor when it comes to freedom, independence, and choice. Money also sets us up for security now and later in life. But money doesn’t just come to us or automatically increase as life goes on. We have to ask for it and here’s why:
You’re the Only One Who Can Advocate For You
Have you ever sat there and wondered when your boss is going to offer you a raise or promotion? It’s okay if you have, but the truth is, they aren’t going to do that out of the goodness of their heart. Everyone around you is mostly concerned with themselves and their own work and life. They aren’t thinking about you and your salary. You’re the only one you can count on to advocate for you. So you have to consistently ask for more, whether that’s a raise or a promotion, or whether it’s going off and finding a new job. It’s not always comfortable but it’s necessary.
The Gender Wage Gap Persists
In a few weeks, we’re going to “celebrate” Equal Pay Day. And despite its name, incomes are still beyond inequal. On average, women in the United States earn 20 percent less than men for the same work. That gap gets much worse for women of color, some groups earning up to 50 percent less than their male counterparts. By the time the average woman reaches retirement age, she will have earned over $400,000 less than a man, even if she never stopped working for any reason.
These are huge disparities and they are not explained away by women taking time off for having children. And they affect women greatly. The less you earn, the less you’re able to put towards debt, the less you’re able to save, and the longer it will take you to be able to take certain steps, like buying a home, getting married, or having children.
And this wage gap doesn’t only affect women while they are working, it follows them throughout their lifetime by contributing to the investment gap. More about that later.
The wage gap isn’t some natural, unconscious thing. Employers and choosing to pay women less than men. And yes, they need to be held accountable and forced to pay equally. But in the meantime, women need to be advocating for themselves and forcing the issue at work.
Women Are Increasingly The Breadwinners
Did you know that 49 percent of working women in the United States identify as the breadwinners? And 42 percent of working mothers identify in the same way. That means that nearly 50 percent of American households have a woman who is the breadwinner. Boy, things have changed in the past 50 years!
But since women are increasingly the breadwinners in their households, that means that they are the ones providing most of the income. If that’s true, it’s important for women to be earning as much as they possibly can. With additional financial pressure comes additional stress. The more money coming into a household, the more secure individuals and families will be (of course, you also have to make sure you’re living within your means).
Women Live Longer
On average, women live at least 5 years longer than men do. This means that women will need more money and more healthcare. This also means that many women (ie: the heterosexual ones) will end up single at the end of their lives, supporting themselves. By age 85, women outnumber men two to one and 81 percent of centenarians are women. Two-thirds of women hope to live to be 100 years old, but most of these women are also afraid of running out of money during that time. In addition, the average woman will have 39 percent higher health costs than the average man in retirement, paying an additional $194,000. That’s a lot of money. And if women are underearning and undersaving throughout their careers, they might not have it.
Salary Affects Savings and Investments
Due to earning less, women are saving and investing less as well. This means that they accumulate less in their retirement accounts than men do. By earning less, you’re contributing less, your employer is matching less, and you’re earning less in interest. Plus, women live longer, so they need more money in retirement!
Your salary isn’t just about how much money you’re making right now, it’s also about how much you’re able to set aside for the future, whether that is retirement or for other life goals. If you’re continuously underearning, you’ll be less secure and less likely to reach your goals.
The moral of the story is that even though society needs to make a big shift when it comes to paying women, women also need to be advocating for themselves at work. It doesn’t always feel comfortable or come naturally to ask for more, but it’s essential.
Certified Financial Education Instructor. Feminist and financial coach for women. Founder of Money Circle.