The complexities of the gender wage gap

screenshot-2017-02-23-19-40-58According to the American Association of University Women, an organization that promotes equity and education for women and girls, women working full time in the United States were paid only 80 percent of what men were paid in 2015. This is a startling statistic when you look at it in isolation. Are women really paid less than men by an 20 percent margin? Why do men make so much more than women? And most importantly, how can we change this?

Plot twist: women are not paid 20 percent less than men for the same work. No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. They’re really not. To understand the difference between men and women’s pay, you have to look at all the numbers, not just that 20 percent margin. Here are three things you should know:

  1. NPR came out with a piece that included the ten most profitable majors, which include such subjects as petroleum engineering, pharmacy sciences/administration, mathematics and computer science, chemical engineering, and metallurgical engineering. All of these majors are by far male-dominated.
  2. Some of the most popular degrees for women have some of the lowest earning potential, including psychology, nursing (health/medical preparatory programs), communication studies, sociology/social work and early childhood education.
  3. According to surveys conducted by Pew Research, mothers more often worked reduced hours, took more significant time off, quit a job and turned down a promotion.

In summary, the ten most profitable majors are mostly dominated by men, the ten least profitable majors are mostly dominated by women, and women who become mothers are more likely to work reduced hours, take significant time off, quit a job and turn down a promotion.

The 20 percent statistic fails to acknowledge all of these factors; it’s simply a broad statistic relating to all full-time working men and all full-time working women. With all of these facts, the 20 percent wage gap makes a little bit more sense.

Are you asking yourself why the most profitable majors are dominated by men? Well, how many women that you know want to become petroleum engineers? What about metallurgical engineers? Juxtapose that with how many you see entering the early childhood education or nursing fields. Of course, some women do enter mechanical or chemical engineering. Look at the average earnings of men and women in those fields and the pay gap almost completely disappears. The following is a graph taken from an article on the pay gap in the engineering field.

screenshot-2017-02-23-19-43-34

A lot different than the 20 percent you read about, huh?

You might be stricken by the increase of the gap as years of experience goes up. Well, there’s an explanation for that, too. Remember that women who become mothers are more likely to work reduced hours, take significant time off, quit a job and turn down a promotion? As it turns out, that affects women’s pay.

So the gender gap is more complex than the 20 percent statistic. If men really did make 20 percent more money than women for the exact same work, then why would companies bother hiring men? Why not save the money and hire all women?

By Lindsey Allen

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