Feminist Friday: Pay Equity and the Distant Future | Vol. 2 / No. 19.2

Just a little delay at the starting line. Photo: Flickr user Oscar Rethwill, CC BY 2.0
Just a little delay at the starting line. Photo: Flickr user Oscar Rethwill, CC BY 2.0

In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle reacts to a new study that shows the gender pay gap won’t close for decades.


My brilliant mathematician friends, Friend M and Friend K, could tell you that I don’t really care for numbers. I don’t know if it’s because I was never as good with numbers as I was with words, or if I just have something against picking academic majors that can lead to a living wage. Whatever the reason, numbers and I have never really gotten along (though Friend M still curses whenever I ask him what differential equation makes gravity reverse itself, which gives me some sense of vindication). But sometimes even I have to admit that numbers are just really effective. And really, really depressing.

A recent article from the Guardian reports that it will take 70 years to reach pay equity between genders if we keep going at the current rate. That’s 70, with a 7 and a 0. That is ten times as long as it has taken to get to a 6th edition iPhone. By the time we have equal pay, we will have iPhones that are directly implanted into our brains and eyes. 45-50ish years after multiple countries have passed equal pay legislation, women make 77% of what men do as a global average. That number has risen a whopping 3% over the last twenty years.

Serious talk time folks: that number is not the result of women failing to “lean in.” We can lean in until we strain a muscle in our back, and that number will not move very much. That number is the result of systematic sexism. As you would (sadly) expect, the pay gap is larger for women who have children, women who dare to take time off to have said children, and women who try to have any sort of work/life balance that doesn’t consist of “do all the housework AND all of the other work!” On the other side of the totally expected sexism spectrum, men who have kids actually get paid better than their compatriots. They look like providers! They have trophy children! Probably they have a wife making 77% of what their husbands do who are also taking care of the kids!

If I’m reading the article right, there are actually more countries that give paternity leave (56%) than give maternity leave (51%). I…. need to go sit down somewhere. Oh good. I’m already sitting. That makes things easier. And while men are increasing their participation in the home, they still do about 1/3rd of the amount of home and childcare work that women do (9 hours compared to 26 hours). On top of that, the percentage of both women and men in the workforce has actually decreased since 1996. In 1996, 52% of women and 80% of men were in the workforce—today those numbers are 50% and 77%, respectively. Apparently the recession hit harder than we thought? Or there’s way more 1% millionaires who don’t have to work a day in their life than we thought.

It’s important, when discussing subjects like these, to (violently) disabuse people of some of their notions regarding what causes the pay gap. One of the common supposed culprits is education (because what do women need with book learning?) But women (even women who haven’t procreated yet!) can expect to make substantially less than their male counterparts directly after having completed similar education. A 2009 study found that women make an average of 82% of what their male counterparts make the year after they finish their bachelor’s degree—that means women are making roughly $7,000 less a year right out of the gate. That number stays steady even when you factor in a comparison between hours worked. If women and men are working the exact number of hours, that 82% pay gap still exists. Now, there are a number of factors that can and do go into the pay gap—type of education, demographic information, geographic location, etc. But a full one third of the pay gap is “unexplained” by any of these factors. I think this is important enough to quote in full:

Although education and employment factors explain a substantial part of the pay gap, they do not explain it in its entirety. Regression analysis allows us to analyze the effect of multiple factors on earnings at the same time. One might expect that when you compare men and women with the same major, who attended the same type of institution and worked the same hours in the same job in the same economic sector, the pay gap would disappear. But this is not what our analysis shows. Our regression analysis finds that just over one-third of the pay gap cannot be explained by any of these factors and appears to be attributable to gender alone. That is, after we controlled for all the factors included in our analysis that we found to affect earnings, college- educated women working full time earned an unexplained 7 percent less than their male peers did one year out of college. [emphasis added]

This is insanely important information to bear in mind. Women are starting out their professional lives at a profound disadvantage, simply because they are women. We’re all starting our professional lives with a massive student loan debt—I’m betting an extra $7,000 right away would be incredibly useful, let alone the $140,000+compounded raises you missed out on after 20 years.

And that’s just the number if you have the most generous possible pay gap. I have the distinct pleasure(?) of being from Wyoming, which in a 2013 analysis only managed to tie with West Virginia and beat out one other state in terms of how little women are paid compared to men. The average woman in Wyoming makes 69% of what a man does. That number is so depressing I can’t even manage to make myself smile at the juvenile humor in that sentence. Louisiana takes the dubious honor of having the largest pay gap, with women making only 66% of what their male counterparts make.

This sustained, automatic pay inequality is not going to be solved by just trying to inspire women to ask for more, do more, and sacrifice more. It can only be solved by holding companies accountable for their payment practices, by auditing companies in their hiring and payment decisions, by adding more protections for women who raise concerns about their pay, and by passing legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment and the Paycheck Fairness Act. I don’t really want to wait 70 years to see men and women finally be paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work. Let’s try to achieve pay equality sometime before the iTelepathy comes out, shall we?


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not raging against the inequities of the patriarchy on the internet, she studies gender in  popular culture.