By Richard Eisenberg
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .
Can anything be done to close the sad and enormous wage gap between women and men? Actually, based on what I heard at the Inclusion By Design: Equal Pay Day conference in New York City recently (Equal Pay Day), yes.
The speakers at the conference (from a nonprofit for women 50+ in the workplace, known as amazing.community ), ranged from a Harvard researcher to an AARP public policy expert to a whiz on negotiating pay. None of them believed the wage gap could vanish anytime soon. But they did suggest steps that women, employers and the government could take to lessen the disparity. I’ll share them below.
“Pay fairness is a moral issue, but it’s also an economic issue,” said Siri Chilazi, a research fellow at the women and public policy program at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government. “If the trajectory doesn’t change, the gender pay gap won’t close for another 40 years, maybe 100 years. I’m not willing to wait for either.”
What the gender pay gap is
Before getting to how to close the gender pay gap, some definitions and details might be useful.
The current gender pay gap is commonly described as 20%, said Chilazi. That’s the earnings ratio of the median women’s salary in the U.S. divided by the median men’s. In other words, based on annual earnings — taking into account all income sources and factoring in the number of hours worked — women now earn 80% of what men do. The U.S. gender pay gap is worse than the average for OECD countries (highly industrialized, high income nations).
The gender pay gap is especially large in America for black women (61% of men’s pay) and Latino women (53%).
And, Chilazi said, the pay gap gets wider as U.S. women get older. While the gap is 10% for women age 20-to-24, “for 55-to-64 year-olds, the gap is 22%,” said Chilazi. “That’s a consistent trend we have seen statistically, even as the wage gap has narrowed overall.”
The size of the wage gap also depends on the type of job, and it’s probably exactly the opposite way you think.
Where the pay gap is biggest
“The highest paying jobs that require the most education show the largest wage gaps,” Chilazi said. “The smallest wage gaps are on the low-end of the income spectrum because those jobs have more of a standardized wage structure.” Also, Chilazi added, wage gaps are smaller for unionized jobs and for federal workers than for nonunion jobs and private-sector employment.
Although the gender pay gap has diminished since researchers began tracking it in 1979, Chilazi said that “most of the progress was in the 1980s and 1990s,” when more women came into the workforce and stayed and when women’s education levels rose. Lately, she noted, “we have more or less stalled.”
Fixing the wage gap is tricky, Chilazi said, citing Uber as an example.
Compensation for that ride-sharing app isn’t subjective. It’s determined by the Uber algorithm, which doesn’t know a driver’s sex. Nevertheless, researchers found a 7% pay gap in favor of men. (A few reasons: men tended to stay on the Uber platform longer and the algorithm rewards that; men tend to drive faster, so they complete more trips in a given time and men tend to drive at more lucrative times in more lucrative parts of town and take longer trips.)