Why the Pay Gap Persists

Posted: 24th February 2021 10:34

When a forward-thinking tech company like Google is sued for gender pay discrimination you have to wonder why the pay gap persists – more than 50 years after equal pay was codified into Federal law. Remarkably, despite all apparent evidence to the contrary, many people say it has nothing to do with gender discrimination. They say the issue is purely circumstantial.
Where We Currently Stand
According to the American Association of University Women, while the pay gap has closed considerably over the years, it remains nonetheless. As of 2020, women are paid an average of 82 percent of what men get for doing comparable work. In other words, for every 100 dollars a man gets in salary, women get 82. This is despite the fact that more college-educated women enter the workforce than similarly accomplished males each year. For example, a recent analysis of US Census Data showed female practitioners of internal medicine and surgeons experience a 29 percent pay gap.
Popular Opinion Says
Staunch deniers of the gap say there’s more to it than just the numbers. They assert women more often go into lower paying fields of endeavor. Even in the professions they say, women usually go for the lower paying specialties and areas of expertise. In the case of medicine, this translates into more female pediatricians than orthopedic surgeons.
Another cause to which the perception of a gap is attributed is motherhood. Childbearing years tend to coincide with the formative years of a professional career. When women take time off to nurture their young, men are steadily progressing professionally, leaving women less experienced and therefore valued at a lower rate when they return to work.
It is also posited that women tend to be softer negotiators than men when it comes to pushing for dollars in compensation. In other words, male candidates start off with higher salaries because they negotiate more aggressively. This head start persists throughout their careers, as subsequent employers take salary history into consideration when making employment offers. Thus, women often earn less over the course of their career. 
Why Popular Opinion is Wrong
The fact of the matter is all of these reasons are rooted in systemic gender bias. Societal norms tend to steer women into certain fields. Moreover, in many cases wages in those fields dropped when they became “female jobs”.
In other words, our culture of gender stereotyping funnels women into lower paid areas, which are only lower paid because they are looked upon as being “women’s work”. Teachers, social workers and flight attendants are better at their jobs when they are good at the roles women have long been expected to play in society — child rearing, meal preparation and emotional support. These professions play critical roles in our society and yet they are also among the most undervalued.
Again though, as we noted above, the pay gap persists even when women work in what are traditionally male-dominated careers.
There is Hope Though
The gap has narrowed considerably since the 1960s when the national workforce transformed into a larger and more gender diverse group focused on the provision of services rather than manufacturing. Where the difference was once as much as 41 cents on the dollar for white women and 57 cents for black women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau it stood at 63 percent for black women and 79 percent for white women in 2019.
Moreover, there has been significant movement in the legislative realm to address the problem, including the reintroduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act to allow workers to share compensation information with one another. The act also provides means by which employers can be held accountable of systemic discrimination.
So, while the pay gap does still persist, things are moving in the right direction.