Is There a Gender Wage Gap?
By Steve Gillman
Is there still a large gender wage gap? Not all of the number
crunching from the 2010 census has been done yet, but when we
look at the data
collected in the census of 2000, we find that--as an example--in
Alabama, men who work full time under the title of "chief
executives" make $82,462 annually, while women in that category
make just $46,650. The averages for the country as a whole are
$95,982 and $61,134. If we do some number crunching we see that
women who are chief executives in Alabama make 46% less than
men in that position. That compares to the national average of
36% less for women.
That is definitely a gender wage gap, in Alabama and in the
country. But what is the cause? Some will tell you that it's
because women take time off to have children, and so their wages
are lower by choice. Of course the question here is; 46% lower?
When you get to the less-skilled jobs the gender wage gap
gets narrower. For example, the data shows that women in the
U.S. who are postal service clerks average $38,608, which is
only 5% less than men in that position. Of course this brings
up the question of why they would lose only 5% of wages for "voluntary"
reasons like having a child, while chief executives do 46% worse
than their male counterparts.
Then there is the more obscure data to be mined in these statistics
that the U.S. Census Bureau compiles. For example, of the men
in the category of "chief executive" 58% have college
degrees, while only 44% of women in this position have these
papers. It is interesting to note how many of both sexes have
attained such a position without college degrees (probably those
who started the companies in most cases), but it also brings
up the question of how much of the gender gap is really an education
Now I offer some speculation and commentary.
Most of us can honestly say that we just don't see any company
that openly pays 46% less or $36% less or even 5% less to a woman
than a man for the exact same job. Generally the starting pay,
if specified in any way, is the same. And I'm willing to bet
that not only will most who make these decisions claim no bias,
but will believe what they say. Perhaps I am optimistic, but
I think we have reached the point where 90% or more of us would
want to pay the same for the same job regardless of gender or
race or anything other than performance.
But now the realistic part of me: People are acting on subconscious
motives all the time, and there is a large degree of prejudice
in all of us--just in different directions. This suggests that
even the most consciously honest person can discriminate without
being aware of the basis or the reality of that discrimination.
I suspect that this is the reason for much of the gender wage
gap. The research backs me up, by the way, with many studies
showing biases that we are not aware of. And if a woman is promoted
less often, then the men in those higher positions will go through
more cycles of raises and bonuses. They will have more income
for true service and experience--but service and experience that
has been denied to qualified women.
We will perhaps have a gender wage gap for generations due
to cultural expectations that motivate many women to take a different
course than men. But beyond the "fair" reasons for
the gap, there are the unfair and unconscious forces that we
will have to deal with individually and as a society over time.