Closing The Gap

How to convince a skeptic the pay gap is real


Extensive research demonstrates that the gender pay gap exists, but there are many skeptics who still think otherwise.

According to the Institute for Women's Policy and Research (IWPR) and the American University of American Women, U.S. women working full-time earned just $0.80 for every dollar earned by a man in 2016. At this rate of change, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.

The wage gap widens even more when broken down by race. Black women make $0.63 for every dollar, while Latina women earn $0.54 cents. For women of color, the timeline for pay equity is even longer; the IWPR found that Latina women would have to wait until 2233 and black women until 2124.

But even with statistics like these, some deny that the gender pay gap exists, or downplay its consequences. According to Ellevest, an woman-focused online investing platform, only 61 percent of men believe that men earn more than women for doing the same job.

The other 39 percent of men either do not believe the gap is real, or chose not to answer the survey question. But women view things differently: 83 percent of women surveyed say they believe there is a gender wage gap.

In honor of Equal Pay Day, the annual date that symbolizes when women's earnings finally catch up to what men earned the year prior, we've compiled a list of the top six arguments against the gender pay gap, and how to counter them.

1. Women leave the workforce to have kids

It's not that women want to leave their jobs to take care of their children, it's that they're forced to. "One problem is that a lot of men and women in the United States don't have paid family leave," says Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at the AAUW.

Although women will take unpaid family leave, men won't, says Miller, which is due in part to gender norms. "Research has found that men in particular refuse to take family leave if it's not paid," explains Miller. "We expect women to take leadership in a way that we don't expect men."

One solution to this problem is to offer all employees paid family leave. However, Miller notes that even when companies do offer paid family leave, men are still less likely to use that benefit.

Discrimination against mothers also plays an important factor, says Miller. Research shows that, overall, when women in the workforce have children, they experience a pay cut. But when men have children, they receive an increase pay, which experts refer to as a "fatherhood bonus."

"We see statistically that when men and women make the same choices, like having kids, that it has a different impact in that men's wages actually go up," says Miller. He also points out that rearing kids isn't a valid explanation as to why women as a whole earn less than men, because many women opt not to have children.

"Even when women stay in the workforce 100 percent of the time, never have kids, never leave the workforce — we're still experiencing a pay gap," says Miller.

2. Men work harder and longer hours

While it's true that women are more likely to work part-time jobs, this doesn't play a role in the overall statistics, because the data looks at full-time workers, explains Miller. Citing the American Time Use survey, Miller notes that women spend more time doing care work, such as taking care of kids and older family members, and housework.

While women are at home taking care of the domestic work, men are able to have longer continuous work hours, which research shows is given a pay premium in the workforce.. "So this unpaid second shift that women are doing," says Miller, "is subsidizing men's work."

Industries that laud working long hours, such as investment banking, exemplify this pay gap. Miller notes that these industries are the ones with the highest salaries, and the highest gender pay gaps.

3. Men are more educated than women

"This is absolutely not factual," says Miller. "Women have been earning more college degrees than men for decades now." Today, women earn about 56 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the United States.

In fact, women are also surpassing men in the number of earned master's degrees and doctorates, says the researcher, and they're almost reaching equity for medical and law degrees. In 2016, women earned the majority of doctoral degrees for the eighth consecutive year and they outnumber men in grad school 135 to 100, according to the American Enterprise Institute, citing a Council of Graduate Schools' report.

"With a few exceptions, obviously in engineering and STEM fields," explains Miller, "women are massively more educated than men at this point."

While this increase in women earning advanced degrees plays a role in shrinking the gap as a whole, says Miller, the gap is even larger when you compare men and women's earnings at the same level of education.

"These sorts of people with college degrees and advanced degrees are often in fields where there isn't really a ceiling on pay," he says. "And so men are rewarded disproportionately for the same jobs [and] for the same credentials as women."

4. Women aren't skilled negotiators

Research shows that women are less likely to negotiate job offers — and for good reason. Studies have found that when women ask for raises or try to negotiate their salary, they are viewed unfavorably and can be penalized.

"Women are more likely to see a blowback to being assertive and for demanding what they're worth," explains Miller. When women ask for a raise, they are seen as high maintenance and too demanding. Conversely, when men ask for a raise they are seen as "getting what [they] deserve," says Miller.

The researcher points to programs like the AAUW's salary negotiation workshop, which trains women on the skills needed to make a pitch for a raise or a promotion. However, he says that this isn't going to be the "silver bullet" to combat the pay gap, since women can't negotiate their way past gender bias and discrimination.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images

5. Men pursue higher paying careers

This one is a bit complicated, says Miller. The issue isn't that women are deliberately setting out to find lower paying jobs, but rather the jobs that women do are often valued less than men's.

An analysis between 1950 and 2000 of the average salaries and occupations found that when women enter a field, the wages drop, even for men in that field, because the career is considered less valuable when more women do it. The study shows that when a large number of women became designers, wages occupation wide fell by 34 percent. When they became biologists, wages fell by 18 percent.

A more recent study by Cornell University found that the difference in occupations and job types between men and women is the "single largest cause" of the gender pay gap, the New York Times reports.

"It's not so much that men and women are choosing higher and lower paid fields and that's just the end of the story," explains Miller. "But when women do a job it's valued less, and when men do a job it's valued more."

6. $0.20 barely makes a difference

Miller highlights the fact that the $0.20 pay gap refers to all women. When you look at the gap by race, black and Latina women make even less.

Additionally, this overall loss adds up quickly. In fact, Miller notes that $0.20 comes out to about $10,000 a year on average, for full-time workers in the United States. "I don't know anyone in the workforce who would say $10,000 a year is just play money," says the researcher.

Even when comparing women and men at lower wages — for example, those with a $5,000 wage gap — that loss in pay is still very significant, especially for single family households and for women who don't have much money to begin with.

"It really does make the difference between poverty and economic security," says Miller. "Women are more likely to be in poverty than men, are and the gender pay gap is a large factor in why."

— Video produced by Mary Stevens

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