Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sadly, Equal Pay is Still an Issue

Today is Equal Pay Day.  I started my day at the American Planning Association’s national conference in Boston, where I joined colleagues to talk about the gender pay gap.  Of course, women have certainly made significant progress over the decades in terms of occupational access and educational attainment, yet these advances have not resulted in full equity in the labor market.  Instead one of the most significant markers of labor market success---equal pay---remains an elusive goal for women.  On average the pay gap stands at around 79 percent.  And this is not a one-time financial loss.  The pay gap leads to a lifetime of income and wealth loss.  The cumulative impacts of the pay gap reduce women’s benefits from Social Security and other pension plans and their ability to save for retirement, housing, college educations, etc.   The lost earnings are staggering- -according to the 2008 report of the American Association of University Women, over a 35 year working life, women can lose $210,000 simply because of gender.

While increased levels of education and training help women earn more income, it does not eliminate the gender pay gap.  In fact the pay gap not only continues to persist at all education levels, it is actually more pronounced at higher educational levels.  The gender pay gap is actually larger for women with college and graduate degrees than for women with less education (as compared to comparable men).  Such findings are particularly troubling, as they cast doubt on the idea that if women would simply invest in their education, and gain the human capital credentials, the pay gap would disappear. 

Eradicating the pay gap is truly a matter of fairness and economic survival for women. Women’s labor force participation has reached the 50 percent mark and substantial numbers of them are integral contributors to their family’s economic security.  In two-earner families the wife, on average contributes a third of the family income.  In addition, 76 percent of single mothers are in the labor force and these women, raising their children on their own, are their family’s only earner.  Women’s incomes are critical to their families’ economic well-being and equity in pay is a direct way that can help to decrease the number of women and children living in poverty.

As I left my presentation this morning I could not help but remember that one of my very first publications in graduate school back in 1990’s, was a book chapter, written with one of my mentors, Patricia Roos, on the pay gap.  And as I headed out into the streets of Boston after my talk, I realized that our paper is as relevant today as when we wrote it.  And then an even more disturbing thought crossed my mind.  Unless we make Equal Pay a priority and a reality, there will, unfortunately, be many more Equal Pay Days to come.

Mary Gatta, Ph. D.
Senior Scholar
Wider Opportunities for Women


Anita said...

Thanks for this post! We have added it to the MomsRising fair pay blog-a-thon. http://www.momsrising.org/blog/dont-shortchange-our-moms-daughters-and-families-a-blog-a-thon-for-fair-pay-day/


Mary C Murphree said...

Thanks, Mary Gatta, and thanks, WOW, for this post. How right you are! The $210K loss on average to women over a life time really gets my goat. I just celebrated my 70th birthday; I am o.k. financially, and can cut back on work as I age... but think, just think what that $210,000 differential could mean to all those women my age who have gotta keep on workin'-- whether their body is up to it or not. Equal pay is indeed a big issue. Mary Murph

Atlanta Roofing said...

Yes, this. I think if we want to actually ensure equal pay salaries should not only NOT be taboo, but companies should be legally required to post salary information a few times a year to their employees. I don't care if it has names next to it or not; if I can see that every other person is being paid.

Cathy said...

Wow! I didn't realize that the difference is more pronounced for those of us with higher education.

I like Atlanta Roofing's comment. I understand it can be difficult to post salaries because of the trouble it may cause, but that's part of the problem - we're not all being paid equally for equal work!