Congratulations, women! The new Census data shows that the pay gap reduced from 2012 to 2013. From 77 cents in 2012, female workers now make 78 cents for every male worker’s dollar; that’s a whole penny! Now, don’t go spending it all at once.
In all seriousness, however, the fact that the pay gap shrank is good news, but the finer story is why the growth rate of women’s salaries compared to men’s has been so slow.
It is not because women themselves are doing anything wrong. More women invest in their educations at higher levels than men. 70 percent of women enrolled in college after high school graduation, compared to 61 percent of men. Women earned 60 percent of master’s degrees and 53 percent of Ph.Ds in 2011. This success rate has given women the opportunities to gain entry to a variety of industries, and reach executive roles in high-paying professions.
Women are now more than ever concentrating on their careers before they get married and have children. The average age of marriage has increased dramatically since 1970 when the median age of a bride was 22 years old. Now the median bride is 27 years old, and rising. In 1970, the average age to have your first baby was 22, but now it is 25. The teen birth rate is down a whopping 31 percent since 1990. This is most likely because teenagers are more careful about using contraception than they were in the ’80s and ’90s.
In recent years, it is likely that women’s hard work and dedication is the main and arguably the only reason that there has been any progress on closing the pay gap at all. President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Act in 2009. This act makes it easier for employees to sue their employer for pay discrimination. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Act may have caused some employers to reevaluate their policies and raise some of their women employee’s pay, but let’s be real here: as long as employees suing their bosses is the main enforcement mechanism for fair pay, most bosses are going to rest easy, since suing is hard under any circumstances but especially so if the person whom you are suing signs your paychecks.
There is overwhelming evidence that suggests that one of the main reasons women’s pay still falls behind men’s pay is the discrimination against women and specifically mothers. Bryce Covert pointed out that, “A woman makes less than a man no matter how much education she gets, what industry she enters, what job she chooses, or where she lives. She will even earn less even if she makes it to the very highest position possible: CEO.” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner noted in Politico, “Women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, whereas mothers drop all the way down to 73 cents. For single mothers, it’s even worse, at a measly 60 cents on a man’s dollar.”
The penalty for mothers is gender discrimination on two levels. One level is frank: employers would rather not hire mothers. “Studies using equal resumes and job experiences found that mothers were hired 80 percent less of the time than women without children and were offered starting salaries that were $11,000 lower than those given to non-moms,” claimed Rowe-Finkbeiner.
Even if mothers do get a fair chance in the hiring process, mothers often fall behind because of social and family discrimination. “More than half of working mothers with kids under 18 have taken a significant amount of time off, compared to just 16 percent of fathers. More than 40 percent of women with children of any age have reduced their hours to care for someone during their working life, but just 28 percent of men fathers have done the same,” explained Covert.
A major part of the problem is that there are still expectations that the mother should make more sacrifices for the child than the father. However, the government could work to make sure that those sacrifices are not damaging to a mother’s career. We could, like France, have subsidized day care so that women do not have to give up their jobs because child care costs more than what they are making at work. Similarly to France, we could mandate maternity leave so that women do not have to give up their jobs just because they have a child.
On the other hand, what we need to stop doing is assume that women are doing anything wrong. It is clear that women are working just as hard as men, and making good choices. The only thing left that women could do to actually close the pay gap on their own is to stop having babies altogether. Since no one actually wants women to do that, we need to find a way to stop penalizing women and mothers, and rather find ways to support them instead.