Feminism F.A.Q.s: Is There Really a Gender Wage Gap?

by | September 5, 2012
filed under Feminism, Politics

Feminism FAQs Title Screen

by Jarrah Hodge

In working on my other Feminism F.A.Q.s videos I’ve argued that while women have made many advancements, feminism is still necessary because we live in a patriarchy in which women still experience inequality. Just one commonly-cited piece of evidence for this view is the existence of a persistent wage gap between men and women.

But for some reason despite the plethora of evidence on this point, certain sections of the population seem bent on denying there is a wage gap or if they’re forced to admit it exists, arguing it’s entirely due to “choices” women make to sacrifice career for family or to avoid higher-risk jobs. It’s not just me who hears this – we saw it played out in an argument on Meet the Press between Rachel Maddow and Alex Castellanos earlier this year. When I tweeted I was making the below video, I was referred to videos echoing this argument that any gender wage gap is due to women working less and moving in and out of the workforce over the course of their lives. Some commenters on previous videos accused me of “spouting ignorance” and one argued “women actually make more money doing the same job as men.”

I watched the videos and read their sources but they don’t explain the research and articles I read in writing this video, which are linked into the transcript below.

As Bryce Covert at The Nation wrote (and I highly recommend her article for more on this issue), “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Gender Wage Gap.”


Hi. Welcome to Feminism F.A.Q.s. I’m Jarrah Hodge. Today: “Isn’t the gender wage gap just a myth?”

This is a common criticism lobbed at feminists who argue that women have not yet achieved full equality. The critics tend to say that either the wage gap doesn’t exist, or that where it does it’s entirely due to women’s choices, not discrimination.

On the first point, the evidence is clear: the gender wage gap does exist.

In Canada women working full-time, year-round make 72 cents for every dollar a man makes. American women aren’t far off at around 77 cents per dollar, and the gaps are even bigger for women of colour.

That makes the median pay gap over $10,000 a year. That’s $400,000 over the course of a lifetime.

But what about the second point? Aren’t women just making choices that result in them making less, like taking more time off to take care of kids or avoiding more dangerous jobs that might provide a “risk premium”?

It’s true we live in a society where in nuclear families women are generally the ones expected to make career sacrifices to take care of kids and aging relatives.

Women who take time off in this way may experience what’s called a “motherhood penalty” in terms of lifetime wage loss, but we don’t see the same thing for men who take time off; there’s no similar “fatherhood penalty”. So what kind of a choice is this really?

And even this can’t account for the entire pay gap.

For one, not all industrialized countries share the gap. The Conference Board of Canada gives ups a “C” grade for wage equality with our  28% gap. By contrast, Denmark’s gap is only 9%.

Second, The wage gap narrows but doesn’t disappear even when controlling for full vs part-time work, educational level, and the sectors in which people are employed. The US Census Bureau found men were paid higher in 19 out of 20 traditionally male occupations and 19 out of 20 traditionally female occupations.

As for risk premiums, the US Department of Labor found this can’t account for the gap either. In fact jobs involving knowledge are the most rewarded in the marketplace today, yet women with the same educational attainment are still making less.

Now I’m  sure most of the wage discrimination isn’t due to conscious discrimination  – some of the wage gap is due to the fact some women aren’t socialized to negotiate better working conditions or salary increases for themselves on their own. And some women in precarious positions might not be able to risk trying to negotiate.

To sum up, the gender wage gap is a big issue that needs to be tackled from many angles, but claiming it doesn’t exist or saying it’s all because of women’s choices and that makes it okay isn’t acceptable or true.


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