A few weeks ago, I spoke at a college leadership event in Virginia. I led a workshop that helped college students understand how to start their careers on the right financial foot. Overall, the presentation went very well. A lot of students in the audience clearly got a lot out of the content and many of them came up to me afterwards to ask more questions. However, there was one student, a young man, who seemed to find my presentation very amusing. He laughed to himself quietly throughout the entire thing. I mostly ignored him and continued to teach the room. At the end, though, he was one of those who came up to me.
Then he asked me if I know that the wage gap doesn’t actually exist.
I was a little curious that he’d be approaching me, since he didn’t seem to pay much attention to the presentation itself. At first, he asked me about the part of my work that is related to closing the wage gap. He asked if I am an activist for it or if I just teach salary negotiation tactics. I told him that I do both. Then he asked me if I know that the wage gap doesn’t actually exist. We went back and forth for a little bit, me insisting that it does exist, him insisting that it doesn’t. He told me to look on the internet and I would see that it is a myth. I told him that the government has statistics around it. He walked away still not believing me, I walked away feeling frustrated and annoying.
However, I realized that I know that the wage gap exists, and I know the numbers for the wage gap for different groups of women. But it occurred to me that I can’t easily point to the research that proves this phenomenon. So, I’ve decided to do my own research and write about it! Here are the real facts about the wage gap.
The Wage Gap Exists in Nearly Every Occupation
One argument that debates the wage gap says that women just tend to work in lower-paying fields. And there is truth to the fact that predominantly female occupations are underpaid; that is a problem in and of itself. But the whole truth is that women’s earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly done by women, occupations predominantly done by men, or occupations with an even mix of men and women.
The Wage Gap Begins Before Women Have Children
I’ve heard more than one person (usually men), including at least one friend, who argue that the wage gap only exists because women leave the workforce in order to care for their children. Usually, these people also talk about this as if it is entirely by choice and not by necessity because of how unfriendly our society is towards families. The need for some women to leave the workforce in order to care for children or other family members is also a problem, but I’ll get to that in a later post.
But the truth is, wage gap statistics actually account for the moments when women leave the workforce in order to assume the caretaker role. In fact, when women were just a year out of college, they were still making only 82 cents on the dollar that their male peers were earning. In one report, they controlled for hours, occupation, college major, employment sector, and other factors associated with pay. This shrunk the pay gap but it did not disappear. Still, about one-third of the gap cannot be explained by any of the factors commonly understood to affect earnings.
These stats were made available by AAUW.
The Wage Gap is Worse for Women of Color
When we talk about the wage gap generally, the number is listed as 79 cents on the white man’s dollar. But that figure only comes when you are looking at all women at once. When you break it down by race, the numbers become much more bleak.
In fact, just recently, on August 22nd, we “celebrated” Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. That means that it took black women in the United States until August 22, 2019 to earn as much as a white man earned in 2018 for the same work. In contrast, white women’s Equal Pay Day was on April 19th. That’s more than a four month difference.
For Native American and Latina women, Equal Pay Day won’t be recognized until September 23 and November 20, respectively. Asian-American and Pacific Islander women were ahead of the rest, reaching Equal Pay Day on March 5. But the facts remain the same: women of all races and nationalities are paid less than men for the same work. And many women of color are severely underpaid.
To put it in numbers instead of dates:
Asian-American and Pacific Islander women make 85 cents on the dollar.
White women make 77 cents on the dollar.
Black women make 61 cents on the dollar.
Native American women make 58 cents on the dollar.
Latina women make 53 cents on the dollar.
These stats were made available by the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Closing the Wage Gap Will Life Women Out of Poverty
Women are increasingly earning more money, despite the wage gap. They are more and more often the breadwinner in American families. The wage gap is not only unfair, but it limits how much money women can bring into their families, how much (if any) they can save over time, and whether or not they are able to plan for their futures. In fact, the wage gap can mean that women are losing $400,000-800,000 over the course of their careers. This can translate into an enormous amount of money for women and their families.
Not only would eliminating the wage gap help women out of poverty, but it would also help the economy as a whole. A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that equal pay would add an additional income of $512.6 billion to the U.S. economy even if men’s wages stayed the same. So keeping women’s wages down isn’t actually helping anyone.
These stats were made available by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
So there you have it. The wage gap is real. And the data exists to prove it. Just because some people don’t want to believe that something exists doesn’t mean that it doesn’t. The information and the impacts are still out there. The wage gap affects women and families in real and lasting ways. And it’s important that we own up to that and do what we can to fight it.
Certified Financial Education Instructor. Feminist and financial coach for women. Founder of Money Circle.