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3 Things Wrong With Equal Pay Day

Topics: Data & Research

Equal Pay Day is the day when the average woman’s pay catches up to the average man’s pay from the previous year. It’s a symbol of the gender pay gap, and an important reminder that men still make more money than women. However, that’s not the full picture of pay inequity.

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Image Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr

Much of what you probably think you know about the gender pay gap is wrong. True, women make less than men — 76 cents for every dollar a man earns when we compare all men to all women, according to data collected for PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap. It’s also true that women are less likely to have executive jobs.

But the real story of the gender pay gap is more complicated than comparing all men to all women, and more nuanced that many takes on women’s under-representation in the C-suite and corporate boards might lead you to believe.

1. The gender pay gap is really an opportunity gap.

PayScale’s data show that when we compare only men and women who work in similar jobs, with similar education, skills, and experience, the gender pay gap closes to 98 cents on the dollar. But men are more likely than women to have higher-paying jobs and leadership roles.

This opportunity gap worsens over the course of workers’ careers. While both men and women start out in similar roles at the individual contributor level, men are 85 percent more likely than women to be VPs or C-suite executives by mid-career. By late career, men are 171 percent more likely to have these high-paying, high-status jobs.

2. Even when they lean in, women do more unpaid labor.

Why do women hold fewer leadership roles than men? In part, it’s because they’re more likely than men to take time out from their careers to care for family. According to a Pew Research survey from 2013, 42 percent of working mothers reported reducing their working hours to care for a family member. Only 28 percent of men said the same.

That’s no surprise: studies show that even when women are the breadwinners, they still do significantly more housework and childcare than men.

But even when women don’t prioritize family over work, they take a salary penalty for marrying and/or having children. Last year’s gender pay gap report from PayScale showed that married women with kids earned 4.2 percent less than married men with kids.

However, men were more likely to report prioritizing home over work – and less likely to be penalized for it, in terms of salary. Women who reported putting life stuff before work stuff even once or twice a month made 3 percent less than men.

Bottom line: even when women don’t put family first, their coworkers may assume that they do. This unconscious bias can affect access to promotions and the raises that come with them, putting women at a financial disadvantage.

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3. Women’s work pays less … because it’s women’s work.

One of the arguments that inevitably comes up during any discussion of the gender pay gap goes like this: “Women make less money, because they choose lower-paying jobs. Therefore, the gender pay gap isn’t a social problem, but the natural outcome of women’s choices.”

But research analyzing 50 years of census data shows that when fields become female-dominated, pay declines. For example, in Grace Hopper’s time, computer programming was seen as “women’s work” and paid accordingly. Now, however, tech jobs routinely top lists of highest-paying occupations — and tend to be male-dominated.

In other words, it’s not that women choose low-paying jobs; it’s that the jobs they choose pay less as a result of being female-dominated.

Tune in from your desk via our Facebook live broadcast, Don’t Call It a Pay Gap, on April 4, 2017 at 11 a.m. PDT. This one-hour roundtable discussion will address the equity challenges facing women in the workforce, including what you can do for yourself, your peers and your organization to effect change. Panelists include: Elizabeth Weingarten (Director of the Gender Parity Initiative at New America); Peter Hamilton (CEO of Tune); and Christy Johnson (Founder/CEO of Artemis Connection).

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What’s your take on pay inequity? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Re: “when women start dominating a job” When men start dominating a job, women’s advocates call it discrimination against women. So when women start dominating a job, that’s when hiring discrimination against men starts. Women’s advocates insist employers everywhere pay women less than men for doing exactly the same work in the exact same occupations and careers. Yet these advocates also seem to think employers’ prime modus operandi is greed. (“Corporate greed” may be one of the Left’s more salient… Read more »

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