The idea of a so-called gender wage gap was introduced to me early in high school by a female teacher of mine. She was highly passionate, even bitter, about the matter, informing my class that despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed by President John F. Kennedy, a woman still only earns about 77 cents for every dollar a man makes as a full-time employee.
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As a woman, her harsh attitude struck me at the time, and I developed a more cynical view of the professional world. But over time and after being employed myself several times and never experiencing any sort of gender-related prejudice, I became more skeptical of the notion of such an extreme, sexually biased pay gap. Moreover, it occurred to me the entire concept could very well be so dated as to border on mythological. It seems to me that the fallacy in the typical gender pay-gap argument is the assumption women are not being paid as much as men for doing the same job, working the same number of hours, with the same educational background, etc. But in many cases, this just isn’t true.
Yes, it is true that overall women make about 77 cents for every dollar men make. However, this statistical representation does not take into account factors not entirely dependent on gender which largely account for a separation in pay between women and men. The statistics suggesting gender-based pay differences do not consider the fact that full-time jobs and the individuals performing those jobs differ from one another in ways that are not tied to gender alone. Certain factors and choices make it more difficult for certain groups of people — usually women — to advance in the workforce. However, these factors do not have to affect women exclusively, and every woman (and man) may choose how such potential inhibitors will affect her (or his) professional aspirations and goals.
Women sometimes have a hard time pursuing prestigious employment opportunities after they get married and children come into the picture. In fact, raising children is a major reason why women leave the professional world. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a choice. And it’s a completely legitimate one. But if women choose to return to their jobs later on, they have to understand their absence will have set them behind their former coworkers, and they probably shouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t earning the same wages and salaries that their peers who never left are earning. Additionally, according to economic scholars Mark J. Perry and Andrew G. Biggs, in an April 2014 opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, “Many working mothers seek jobs that provide greater flexibility, such as telecommuting or flexible hours.” Jobs with more “flexibility” are generally not going to pay as much, whether the employee is male or female.
Educational background also contributes to financial earnings in the job market. Often, women pursue majors along the lines of behavioral studies, the arts and the humanities, which generally don’t lead to jobs that pay as well. In contrast, men are more likely to engage in math- and science-related studies, leading to jobs that pay more on average. But nobody is telling women they cannot be engineers or accountants, and most traditionally male-dominated programs are even eager to accept women willing to apply themselves to such fields.
A couple of other factors contributing to pay discrepancies include bargaining ability in the workforce and high-risk employment positions. Men tend to be more aggressive and are thus able to negotiate higher wages with employers more successfully than women. Additionally, higher-risk and more physically strenuous jobs, such as mining and logging, are more likely to appeal to men. These jobs generally pay higher wages than the service jobs women often take.
But, again, women are usually their own barriers when it comes to differences such as these. We as women need to be just as capable of negotiating with our bosses if something doesn’t seem fair, and we have the ability to work in risky environments if we choose to.
I do see how people could be upset that women are not earning as much money as men under the fallacious premise that the employment conditions are entirely equal between men and women. And I am not so naïve as to believe that there is not some level of gender wage discrimination still in existence today — however, it is a generational issue that to some extent is phasing out. Women need to stop being their own worst enemies. If we really want to live in a “progressive society,” they need to choose to step out of customary comfort zones and compete at the highest professional levels.
I don’t believe women should be granted gender-based cop-outs when there are clearly factors within women’s control to explain such a wage-gap phenomenon. These days women have as much of a choice in how they conduct their lives as men do when it comes to pursuing an education, raising a family and ensuring fair wages for their work. If women choose to realize their fullest professional potential and raise families, it may be necessary for husbands and fathers to take a step back from their careers to help compensate and support their families and their wives’ ambitions.