The Reality of the Gender Pay Gap

Sydney Krastins, Arts Editor |

Most people are familiar with the gender wage gap statistic: women, on average in the U.S., earns 79 cents for every dollar a man earns for performing the same work. While the fact itself is not an easy one to swallow, the history and dynamics behind the income discrepancy show how complicated the matter really is.

Women are often told they make less because they chose career paths that lead to lower paying jobs. Education, social work, and nursing are female dominated fields that notoriously underpay their workers. The pay gap is then attributed to some apparent flaw in the work ethic of women. A common counterpoint defending the wage gap is: if more women would simply pursue higher-paying, male-dominated careers, the pay gap would cease to exist.

Reality, however, tells a different story.

Structurally, female-dominated fields, also known as pink collar jobs, pay less not because they are inherently low skill jobs, but because their association with “women’s work” allows employers to underpay them. It has been shown that even in industries that start out as male-dominated, the pay rates will begin to decrease as more women begin to infiltrate them. According to the New York Times, as more women have entered the work force as designers and biologists, the average wages for each have fallen 34 percentage points and 18 percentage points, respectively.

“It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” said Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”

Perhaps what hurts more is that the reverse has shown to be true; computer programming was initially considered to be a menial low-paying job for women. When more men joined the field, it shifted towards being male-dominated, and both the pay and prestige associated with the job shot up in a clear, measurable way. Computing is now described by Harvard Business Review as being one of the most high-paying, and in turn, male-dominated fields.

Better yet, consider maid, housekeeper, and janitor, job titles that vary little in the nature of their work. Janitors, who are usually men, are paid 22 percent more than maids and housekeepers, who tend to be women.

“Jobs that are unconsciously coded male have more prestige and pay than jobs that are coded female,” wrote Sarah Green Carmichael for Harvard Business Review.

The discrepancy isn’t only present across fields, but also within them. A study by Payscale, “Gap Analysis: What Equal Pay Day Gets Wrong,” showed that even when competing for job title, level, and experience, men still out earn women in every single industry.

For example, women working in an installation, maintenance and repair occupation, a male dominated industry, make almost eight percent less than men with the same exact background doing the exact same job. Male nurses, an example of men occupying a pink collar job, earn $5000 more a year on average than their female coworkers.

Women are not intentionally picking jobs that require less skill, effort, and commitment. Instead, jobs become coded as less important and demanding once a woman occupies that position.

The examples previously mentioned suggest a pattern: work performed by a woman is valued less than work performed by a man; But why?

Historically, we see men as the breadwinners. Though this ideology is thankfully shifting as both career women and “stay-at-home dads” become more accepted and common, it is still rooted deep in our society. The idea that men have always made money and operated in the public sphere while women remained home with the children and housework continues to be inflicted onto our contemporary society. We believe men have always done the hard work, and that women have always been dependent on this.

The 1950s housewife is a vivid example of this assumed dependency. We tend to think of women from this period in the way they were portrayed in popular media and advertisements: smiling, compliant housewives. They cooked, they cleaned, they had babies, and they knew it was their place to do so. In other words, it was assumed that women didn’t do much of anything except look pretty and make sure their husbands were taken care of when they returned home after a long day of earning the family’s living.

But what about the 35 percent of women who were members of the labor force in 1956? What about the fact that taking care of children and running a household are not only incredibly demanding jobs, but also come with no pay, and little to no recognition? What about the 25 percent of women who did both?

Not only are working women often erased from history, but the jobs they have historically occupied, such as secretaries and clerks, are still belittled.

“Housewife” is a term that faces a great deal of stigma even now. It’s not uncommon for a woman to be described as “just a housewife,” with emphasis on the “just.” Not only are childcare and household chores strenuous and underappreciated, they disproportionally fall on the shoulders of women.

The Daily Mail reported a study that found “[women] spend three times as long on domestic chores, such as cooking, cleaning and washing, as their husbands or partners.”

Keep in mind that women now make up almost half the labor force, meaning they’re often expected to be the main caretaker of the house while working a full-time job.

Another study, by the University of Michigan, looked at children’s activities in relation to gender and found that girls take on more responsibilities, as it is a role taught early on. It was shown that girls spend 30 percent more time doing household chores and 50 percent more time doing homework compared to boys. Boys, however, not only spend twice as much time playing than girls, but are also 15 percent more likely to be paid for doing their chores.

It’s not just that children are taught housework is a woman’s job, it’s that women are expected to do housework, while men, when they do help out, are more deserving of recognition and compensation. This gendered coding is ingrained into children from birth, leading to an imbalanced consideration of who’s work, in terms of men and women, is valued more.

Little girls deserve to be shown that their hard work matters, and that it will pay off in the end. They’re having half as much fun and studying fifty percent more, just so they can grow up and earn 20 percent less. That needs to change.

It’s not all about closing the pay gap between men and women for doing the same job, it’s also about removing stigmas engrained into our society and recognizing the value of female-coded jobs.

It is also not about diminishing the hard work of male nurses and male teachers, but rather, about raising up their female counterparts, so both their contributions are fairly valued.

The reality is that women work hard, and have always worked hard. They deserve to be compensated for a history of unrecognized labor.

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