Bring up the topic of equal pay, and you’re likely to be met with a host of arguments as to why the whole gender pay gap is a myth. We all know when you compile research upon research there are many variables. These variables leave open windows for those who don’t agree to shoot holes.
But there are so many valid studies on the gender pay gap, it’s hard to refute that it exists, even if it’s not a simple number. It’s worth a dive into some of the research and societal pressures that fuel the debate.
First let’s outline the top myths on the gender pay gap.
Myth #1: Women choose lower paying jobs.
Some women may indeed “choose” lower paying jobs because they need the flexibility due to a partner with a demanding career, or because they are single mothers, or because family care requires it. That may account for some of the disparity in studies that do not isolate for equal pay for equal work. But there are numerous studies that control for factors like age, education, experience, and performance and still the gap persists. This research on medical professions found that male doctors earn $200,000 more on average than their female peers, even if they have the same specialty, experience, and education. In a recent analysis by Glassdoor, one of the largest job recruiting sites, the company concluded:
“Based on more than 505,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees on Glassdoor, men earn 24.1 percent higher base pay than women on average. In other words, women earn about 76 cents per dollar men earn. However, comparing workers with similar age, education and years of experience shrinks that gap to 19.2 percent. Further, comparing workers with the same job title, employer and location, the gender pay gap in the U.S. falls to 5.4 percent (94.6 cents per dollar).”
The gap narrows to just a nickel when you control for same title, employer, and location? So what’s the big deal? Well, that’s more than $130,000 over the course of a career for someone making an average of $65,000. How many men would voluntarily sign up for that?
Myth #2: Women are a protected class, so employers can’t pay them less.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to pay women less than men. Yet, it still happens. First, transparency regarding salary is discouraged in most workplaces. Many women who play by their employer’s rules will never know if they are being paid less than men for the same job. Second, women would have to confront their manager about uneven pay, a courageous act that can result in retaliation. Third, in order to enforce the Equal Pay Act, a woman would have to take her employer to court– an unpleasant journey for all involved. We have Alabama native and Momentum honoree Lilly Ledbetter to thank for getting rid of the 180-day statute of limitations for wage-related claims. That means if you do file a claim and the court decides in your favor, you can pursue damages for all of your years of employment, not just the last 6 months.
Myth #3: Women make less than men because they leave careers to have families.
While some women do leave their careers to have children, employers should not presume that all women will have children or that a woman will be unable to balance a demanding job just as well as her colleagues who are fathers. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 70% of women with children work. Another study by the Pew Research Center shows that 40% of women with children who work are the sole or primary bread winners for their family. Pair that with the fact that nearly 48% of women between 15 and 44 do not have children. Yet our society still leans towards paying men more when they have children, the so-called “father bonus”, based on stereotypes we have of men being the breadwinner for the family. Those same societal norms impose a “motherhood penalty” on women regardless of whether they have children, plan to have children, or never have children.
3 thoughts on “Myth-Busters About Equal Pay”
Ms. Benetollo – Thank you for the article. I have experienced a dynamic where there is some room for negotiation at the time of hire, especially when there is a pressing need to fill the role with a (usually hard to find) qualified candidate. In my experience, at the time of offer, men often ask for a slightly higher salary, while women either accept the offer as is or else request more benefits such as more paid leave, flexible schedule, and/or increased healthcare coverage. So that leaves men having higher salaries and women (in some cases) with better benefits packages if comparing the same role/title and hire date. Does your research consider total compensation? Also, do you think we should move away from allowing salaries to be negotiated if research shows that men tend to be more aggressive than women in negotiating higher salaries?
Thank you in advance for any thoughts you are willing to share on these questions.
You bring up an excellent point. I have not seen much research to account for the total compensation question. I have seen research that shows men and women view negotiation very differently (see my previous blog post on negotiation.) In the most recent McKinsey/LeanIn.org “Women in the Workplace” study, women lobbied for new projects/positions or increased salaries slightly more than men, but are 30% more likely to receive negative feedback saying they are overly aggressive, intimidating, etc., and on the whole receive fewer promotions than men. That particular study does not cite stats on first-time salary negotiation, but there are others that do*, and the data is not good. I definitely believe that transparency in salaries and moving to a “no negotiation” policy on salary are great steps toward leveling the playing field, and ultimately work to an employers advantage.
Thanks for your comment!