In every ethnic group and every occupational category, American women still earn significantly less than their male equals. In fact, no progress has been made since the 1980s. This is not because women work less. In fact, the more hours women work, the larger the wage gap grows. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working 41 to 44 hours per week earn 84.6% the wages of men working the same hours, while women who work more than 60 hours per week earn only 78.3%.
Education does not narrow the gap, either. The wage gap actually widens at higher levels of education; women with professional degrees only earn 60% the wages of their male counterparts. Some “war-on-boys” pundits are complaining that more women than men graduate college. They imagine that women are getting ahead of men. Actually, what they are witnessing is the efforts of individual women to level the playing field through education. According to the US Census Bureau, a woman must graduate college just to make the same wage as a man who only graduates high school. A woman with a master’s degree typically earns less than a man with a bachelor’s, and a woman with a doctorate earns less than a man with a master’s. If women are rushing to fill the halls of education, it is because we know we must.
The wage gap is not caused by job choice, either. It exists across every occupational category. In fact, when men choose a female-dominated industry such as nursing or teaching, the men tend to be propelled quickly into management positions over the women. For example, male coaches become principals, in management over women with master’s degrees. Women must work an average of three years longer to attain the position of school principal.
The harm to women is obvious. What many people miss is how the wage gap hurts men. It may give some men an edge in the marketplace, but other men find no place in the market at all. This phenomenon is a matter of simple economics. We all want to buy more for less. Given two applicants with equal strengths, employers will often chose the one they can hire at a lower wage. Since women still earn significantly less than men with the same qualifications, women are more likely to accept a lower offer. Thus the wage gap causes male unemployment.
To see the other ill effects on men, we must step back from the competitive model where applicants are battling for position, and consider the family. About 60 percent of married women work full time. Their paycheck benefits the entire family – husband, wife and children. Through wives and mothers, the wage gap robs men and boys of income, too. In the case of divorced or widowed households where the mother supports the children alone, the effects of the wage gap are devastating. Since the greatest factor in determining a child’s future earnings is the earnings of that child’s parents, the economic impoverishment of mother-headed households has far-reaching consequences.
Some voices seek to obscure the wage gap by claiming that it is caused by lifestyle choices. The theory goes something like this: Women are the ones who take time off work to care for babies and sick family members. These breaks in employment cause women to be less experienced, less relevant, and less committed. Employers presumably hire women fairly, but the women miss chances for advancement because of these absences.
Recent studies debunk the lifestyle myth by comparing only full-time, year-round workers, and looking at men and women who have been employed without breaks for the same length of time. The AAUW Educational Foundation recently found that a significant pay gap exists within just one year of college graduation. Straight out of school, women graduates make 80% the wages of their male peers. Within ten years, the gap grows wider, with women earning 69%.
Employment breaks do not cause the wage gap, but the reverse may be true. Since 70% of men earn more than their wives, most families sacrifice the woman’s job when family needs arise. This also hurts men. With their wives underpaid, men are unable to take unpaid leave when they want or need to.
The wage gap hurts men, women and children. It causes male unemployment. It locks families into rigid gender roles, and prevents men from spending more time with their children or caring for their aging parents. Like other forms of discrimination, pay discrimination hurts even those it favors.
Who really benefits from the wage gap? Employers looking to hire quality employees and pay them less than they are worth.
--Jeannie Babb Taylor