Discussions about the wage gap are a crucial part of smashing the status quo for women pursuing careers from the intern level to the CEO level. It’s a pivotal piece of evidence that shows that women and non-binary people face discrimination in the workplace and in their paychecks. But how much does the average gal actually know about this major issue?
Personally, once I’ve thrown out the 77-cents-to-the-dollar stat, I’m pretty much useless. Last semester, I found myself in the middle of a class debate, desperately defending the fact that, even after experience and occupation are factored in, the discrepancy in salary is still enormous. I held my ground, but truly I had no idea what the facts are, and I don’t think I’m alone.
The gender wage gap is not only concealed by the corporate world through sketchy non-disclosure policies, but it has been used as polarized political rhetoric, trying to convincing you either that there is one, there isn’t one, or somewhere in between. Like any form of discrimination, unequal pay is complex and has layers tied to race, religion, class, ability, and more. Despite this being an intersectional issue, the stats are often lumped together to describe these different parts. Even when I was doing research to write this, it was tricky to pick out anything straight forward.
While the roots and manifestations of this problem are nuanced, the cloud of confusion caused by the public discourse on it is unhelpful, and quite frankly, ridiculous. I’ve tried to tease the dilemma apart a bit and provide the everyday badass activist woman with a more helpful foundation of information. It’s important that we all have the tools to fight for our rights, and I think a clear understanding of the wage gap is a good place to start. As we head into the workforce, let’s make sure we know what wrongs need to be set right, and be efficient with our fighting spirits.
Without further adieu, please check out the facts that helped me feel prepared for any discussion about unequal pay.
1) The Wage Gap is Expected to Close in 2058
This projection varies from 2040 to 2070 depending on how conservative of an estimate you make. If the more moderate prediction holds, I will be 59 by the time equal pay is realized, and most women who are working now won’t be anymore. We may have kids in the workforce by then, or even have grandchildren being born into a world of unequal pay.
If you think about all that can happen in 40 years, it seems pathetic (or like a good challenge) that gender inequality in the workplace can’t be solved before then. 40 years may or may not seem like a long time, but let’s remember that the entirety of the internet has been developed in less than 30 years.
This stat is important because it reminds us that if we want to see change that will affect the majority of our careers, we need to enact it starting now.
2) $0.79 : $1 Represents the Opportunity Gap
In 2019, the median full-time salaries of men and women came out to this ratio. As Payscale explains it, the discrepancy in this median comes from the fact that “women are less likely to hold high-level, high-paying jobs than men. There are structural barriers which keep women from advancing in the workplace– this is what we call the opportunity gap.” These norms and career potential prospects are perpetuated all the way back to our childhoods!
Essentially, though, this stat does not represent what a woman would make compared to a male in the same position. It’s separate from the isolated gender discrimination that rewards the same work differently, and more about women choosing careers with fewer financial benefits as a result of socially conditioned preferences. Misrepresenting this information fuels the debate that minimizes both the issue of the opportunity gap and the controlled wage gap.
3) $0.98 : $1 Represents the Controlled Wage Gap
Unlike the last ratio, this stat takes into account occupation, age, and experience to make more direct comparisons. This is the blatant gender discrimination we know and (do not) love. To summarize: women with the same qualifications doing the same work as men lose 2% of what they deserve (cue hand clapping emoji between each word). Use this stat to emphasize that direct gender discrimination is impacting American wages today.
One of the most common and most annoying arguments is that 2% is hardly a difference. John Oliver, one of my favorite late-night hosts, has a great take on this one: “If someone takes a dump on my desk, the size of the dump is not the issue.” I couldn’t agree more with this principle, and the tangible impacts of what may seem small are actually pretty enormous (keep reading).
4) Racial Discrimination holds some Women hostage at Crossroad
On average, Black, American Indian, and Hispanic women make $0.05 less per dollar than white women. The opportunity gap is an intersectional issue, and discussions about the gender wage gap cannot fail to address the nuances in intensity of the problem. Each group faces a different set of frustrating stereotypes that impact their career trajectories.
For example, 72% of Asian women never become managers or supervisors. Despite being paid equally to their male peers, they face prejudices that prevent them from getting promoted. In order to best advocate for yourself, find out the stats for your demographic.
5) Women are Less likely to be Hired or Promoted
In one study, STEM professors seeking research assistants sneakily were provided with identical resumes. The only difference was the name at the tops: Jane or John — this is where you cringe in anticipation. Tragically, the professors viewed the woman as less “competent.” They were less willing to hire her or “recommended paying her a lower salary. Jennifer was offered, on average, $4,000 per year (13%) less than John.”
In another study, it was demonstrated “ that despite women being more likely to achieve top performer ratings, men under age 40 receive more promotions than women.” These blatant forms of discrimination in the workplace have a direct impact on the wage gap and cause it to widen over the course of women’s careers.
6) If you take 12+ months off, your salary decreases by 7.3%
The issue of maternity, paternity, and family leave is much larger than this article, as is the disproportionate ladening of women with raising children. However, the disruptive effects of leaving work to take care of a child impact women and their salaries immensely.
The expectation of motherhood duties effects women as early as in their twenties. Companies view women as a “liability” because of their possible impending leave to parent. While this expectation would be lessened and de-weaponized if men had the option or participated in family leave it’s also important to recognize that motherhood in any form should not have a negative impact on career or salary.
7) Women Owe 66% of America’s Student Loans
This statistic is completely wacky, but it has some serious causes and consequences. Based on FAFSA’s stats, women have a lower average EFC (expected family contribution), which means they have to take out more loans. This can be explained by other studies which have found that families with only sons save more money for college than families with only daughters. The ideology, conscious or otherwise, that is causing parents to approach educational savings based on gender is way out of date. And it is putting women at a disadvantage: when the wage gap is accounted for, it takes women 2 years longer than men to pay off their student loans, which means they are accumulating 2 extra years of interest, paying more, and saving less.
Publicize this silent killer so parents can become hyper-aware of it.
8) Investing Widens the Pay Gap
Investing is a great way to grow your yearly earnings, and commit to future planning. However, the way investments expand money widens the pay gap. Not only do women invest less often and with smaller risks than men do, but because of the gender pay gap, the benefits of those investments are smaller. Stock market payoffs seem really adult and far away to me, but that is part of the problem.
For instance, Ellevest explains that if there is “a man and a woman, both 30 years old with bachelor’s degrees, earning $85,000 [to start] & investing 10% of their salaries… she’ll have about $320,000 less when they retire at 67.” Men get a financial head start, so we better start investing like grown-ass women early and smartly.
The Good News
It can be disheartening to realize how big the impact of the wage gap really is. But there is some good news: You now have the tools to spread awareness about the magnitude of the problem in all its forms. The wage gap is a beast, but through informed and open conversations, and a dedication to advocacy, I am confident that we, the next generation of the female workforce, can tackle it.