The Gender Wage Gap Is Real, But It’s Not as Simple as You Might Think

Graphic by the Denebola Multimedia Team

By Bobby Lovett

About a month ago, a kid in my English class did his sophomore speech on why the gender wage gap doesn’t exist. Since then, I’ve gone on to question my views substantially and decided to delve deeper into the issue upon realizing that I knew nothing about the situation besides the fact that it is often said that a woman earns about 77¢ to a man’s dollar.

According to a wide variety of sources, that statistic is just about right. I would provide a long list, but if you simply google the gender wage gap, you will find that it’s the unfortunate truth, whether we like it or not. Maybe a few cents off in either direction, but it is about right. If you average out every man and every woman’s wages in the nation, men are overall paid more. However, it’s not as simple as women simply being paid less for doing the same job. Paying a woman less than a man in the same job is very illegal, which is why it’s become clear that the gender wage gap has come as a result of a bit more subtle form of discrimination that people aren’t very aware of.

The first thing I discovered while researching this topic is that the U.S. is one of only eight countries in the U.N.’s 193 countries that does not require any level of paid parental leave. It is also the most powerful and notable country in the world, as well as the only high-income country to not require such a seemingly necessary thing. To simply ask “why?” would be delving into an entirely separate conversation. However, the issue is clear– while both men and women are suffering as a result of this confusing lack of such a necessary right, women are getting hit harder, as statistics show that many more of them are staying at home to take care of their children than men are.

According to Forbes magazine, a 2012 study of tenured professors found that only 12% of men took paid paternal leave when offered, while 69% of women did the same. And that’s in the rare case that paid leave is offered. According to CBS News in January, between 1994 and 2015, an average of 273,000 women in the U.S. took maternity leave every month, and fewer than half of those women got paid for it. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty unfair, don’t you think?  

Still, I soon found that even in countries where paid parental leave is a legal necessity, such as the U.K. and Australia, the wage gap is still on par with the U.S.’s, if not greater. How could this be if they allowed paid parental leave? Surely, there would be no further issues past that. And yet there are.

Another important yet often ignored reason is subconscious workplace discrimination. A study by the Cass Business School in London, the University of Warwick, and the University of Wisconsin, found that women were 25% less likely to be given a raise after asking it for one than men were. The myth that women are less aggressive when it comes to asking for raises is untrue, but the fact that they are being denied more often is not. Despite this, there is good news: while the study showed that women overall were not succeeding in wage negotiations, their data revealed that younger women are consistently successfully negotiating raises as often as young men, showing that this issue may slowly fade out as time goes on.

The idea of subconscious workplace discrimination spreads beyond just issues with raises. According to the European Commission, in more female-dominated jobs that are of the same value as male dominated jobs, women are paid less, as their competences are valued at different levels.

To use the example provided by the E.C., in a supermarket where cashiers are predominantly female and stacking shelves/other physical tasks are predominantly male, the people who take on more physical tasks will be paid more simply because their competence is more valued, even though their job is equally important to the cashiers. Yes, that does mean the women doing physical tasks will be paid at the same level as the men doing the same thing and the men cashiers will be paid at the same level as the women, but because both are minorities in either group, it becomes clear that they are either victims (or beneficiaries) of this subconscious discrimination to their occupation’s majority.

The European Commission continues with some more facts that seem almost too ridiculous, or rather old-fashioned, to be real. As stated before, female-dominated jobs are paid less and are undervalued significantly compared to male dominated jobs, but they are also being employed much more often in lower level jobs, such as varying forms of assistants or cleaning and care work. Worse, women are underrepresented in positions of power. In Europe, women represent only 17% of board members of the biggest publicly listed businesses, and only 4% of chairs of boards. And that’s just Europe, which, according to The Business Insider, dominates in social equality, with European countries taking up 10 of the top 11 equal countries in the world. Fun fact folks: the U.S. isn’t the special 11th outlier. Sorry, but we’ve got a lot more work to do.

And to all my fellow men out there, no, you are not being accused of being sexist. Just because you are a guy does not mean you are being targeted. Sit back and relax– it’s okay. We’re all in this boat together. We do not represent the current political and socio-economic climate of our world because we’re kids. But keep in mind that we are the next generation, and it will be up to all of us to decide whether or not we can and/or should make an effort to acknowledge the gap and help seal it (I won’t tell you the answer to that one, but it should be pretty clear already).

Now, maybe I’m a bit biased in this argument. I come from a family with a stay-at-home dad and a working mom, and a working mom of color, no less. I was at first obsessed with the parental leave figure due to the fact that my dad was fired for taking paternity leave for a little too long. And I spent a month or two fighting the idea presented to me. For a while, I asked myself if the gender wage gap was even truly an issue, even though both of my parents firmly believe in it, as well as most of the people I know. I felt really uncertain about this issue for a long time, but now having researched deeper into this issue, I’ve come to realize that the speech that started me on this path of questioning was both right and wrong.

It was right in that the wage gap is not simply a result of women being paid less in the same occupations as men, but wrong in the belief that there is no wage gap. The wage gap is, unfortunately, very real. But we’ve come a long way, and the gap is continuing to narrow every day. With hard work and persistence, the wage gap can be sealed within our lifetimes, and when that happens, we’ll be able to tell our grandkids of the days when wage inequality was real and be thankful that they can live without it.