As an article from the July 2, 1981 edition of Canada’s Medicine Hat News (and recently linked to by Gizmodo) reminds us that, when it comes to the gender pay gap, it’s wise to temper our optimism. The article predicted that the gap would close some 36 years in the then-future – by 2017, to be exact. But, as we know, the pay gap persists. So, what can we learn from this? And, should it change the way we think about the predictions that are being made today?
The gender pay gap is a global issue in 2017.
The gender pay gap is a real and pervasive problem, no matter how you look at the data. And, it continues to impact women and families around the world, in 2017, in a big way.
“The difference adds up—women’s median earnings are $10,800 less per year than men’s. Over the span of a career that yearly difference could accumulate to a half million dollars,” a report by the Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff stated in April of last year.
The report continues:
The pay gap also dramatically affects what women receive in retirement because it reduces women’s earnings. The major sources of retirement income, including Social Security and pension benefits, are largely calculated on the basis of career earnings. Income of women ages 65 and older ($17,400) is 44 percent less than the median income for men in the same age group ($31,200). As a result of this and other factors, a higher percentage of women than men end up living in poverty after age 65.
These kinds of issues impact women around the world. According to the latest report from the World Economic Forum, only five countries have managed to close the gap by more than 80 percent. Sixty-four countries fall into the next tier, having closed their gaps by 70 to 80 percent. Canada and the United States fall into this category when it comes to progress – the U.S. is ranked 45th in the world when it comes to the gap. Our gender pay gap is .722, according to these measures. Canada comes in 35th, with a gap of .731.
In 1981, trends indicated that the gap would close in 2017.
Over 35 years ago, the gender pay gap was worse. But, progress was being made at a steadier rate than it is today. As a result, the author of the 1981 article “Equality in Wages by the Year 2017” had good reason to make this prediction.
“In Canada in 1979, the average working woman earned $11,741, compared to the average man’s salary of $18,537,” the article stated. “These figures are up from 1977, when the average woman earned $9,790 and the average man earned $15,777. This means women’s salaries, while lower, are growing at a faster rate than men’s – 19.9 per cent in two years compared to 17.4. At this rate, women’s salaries will catch up with men’s in the year 2017 when we could all be earning $336,000 annually if inflation stays the same.”
Still, some were skeptical. Lynne Gordon, Chairman of the Ontario Status of Women Council at the time, is quoted in the article as well.
“I’m not encouraged about any of the statistics that come out that show the real dollar gap widening,” Gordon said at the time. “I don’t think we’re ever going to narrow the wage gap unless we beef up enforcement of the existing equal pay laws and slowly start phasing in some variation of equal pay for work of equal value.”
It’s hard to predict the future. Statistics can tell us something about trends, but it’s difficult to know exactly how things will change as time marches forward, especially when we attempt to forecast a few decades ahead. It is true that the gender pay gap was worse in both the U.S. and Canada 35 years ago. But, because progress was being made at a faster rate than was sustained, the predictions were off.
What will the future bring?
At the rate we’re going, the gender pay gap won’t close until 2152. But, what are the chances that this figure is as incorrect as the prediction made back in 1981? It’s difficult to say.
However, the moral of this story is plain to see: When it comes to closing the gender pay gap, it’s up to us. This is not a problem we should count on future generations to resolve. Instead, let’s envision meaningful progress today and work toward making pay equality a reality now. Setting our hopes on some distant resolution won’t help us get there.
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