[NOTE: I wrote this a while back, and have submitted it as a paper to one of my gender classes before]
So I was checking out info about the male-female wage gap.
Contrary to what any anti-feminist is going to tell me, a wage gap between men and women does exist on a large scale. Currently, you’re looking at a ratio of .81, which means that approximately women earn about 19% less than men. This is generally coming out of the US Department of Labor, collected from information taken by the US Census Bureau. (1) Yes, I’m citing government studies here, among a lot of scholarly articles that I have the full PDFs of but don’t really have a way to link to it here. I’ll link the JSTOR page for it, but if you can’t read it, I’ll give you a copy of the PDF. Yes, I do my research.
Most anti-feminists cry that this is because the studies don’t take into account certain things. They claim that hours worked decrease this pay gap, that men and women gravitate toward different industries, and that women choose jobs with more regular hours, greater flexibility and little travel. Women, they argue, trade good pay for other personal needs, while men are ruthless and take terrible jobs that pay better because, well they’re men. That’s the essential of all the arguments I’ve read anyway. Kind of sexist arguments really but okay.
An economist – a person for whom this is their job – testified to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, under oath, that even when they control for factors – such as experience, skill, occupation, education and hours worked (this includes full-time work and overtime pay and the like) – the studies “always find that some portion of the wage gap is unexplained.” This means that, even if the approximation of 19% is overshooting it, there are women who are being paid less than men simply by being women. (2)
To me, even if that number was 1% of the working population, that’s too many women being discriminated against.
But let me repeat that quote. There is always some portion of the wage gap that is unexplained. Anyone who thinks these studies have been done without controlling for factors is an idiot, pure and simple. And I’m also talking about men and women doing the exact same jobs. Don’t come at me talking about how well men take on less appealing jobs so they make more money. There are female roofers and female truck drivers and female prison guards and they make less than their male counterparts in those jobs. Fuck off. It’s hard for me to read some of these (definitely white/rich/male written) articles about why the pay gap doesn’t exist because it adds non-factors like that. We’re comparing equal jobs in equal fields here. Don’t be willfully ignorant about how this works and believe this bull.
However, that idea that males dominate some jobs and women dominate others based on gender traits is called occupational segregation. And yes, that’s certainly something that’s been accounted for as well. Considerable studies have actually found that female-dominated occupations pay considerably less than male-dominated ones – even when you control for individual and workplace factors. (3) A white woman moving to a female-dominated job on averages loses 7% of her earnings, and it gets worse from there (because, yes, race is still a factor in this.) (4) Another study calculated what would happen if female-dominated jobs paid the same as male-dominated jobs; they found that a woman’s hourly pay would go up 13.2%. Men in female-dominated jobs would see a rise of only 1.1%, (5) because they still get paid more than we do in female-dominated jobs. It’s called the glass elevator – as opposed to the glass ceiling – and that’s a rant for another day. Don’t believe me? Found this report on an anti-feminists’ list of sources of why the gender gap doesn’t exist. It’s by the How Stuff Works page and it even says, right there in the article, that “Even within female-dominated sectors, men still make more money.” (6)
Factors include ones like these, which have been used in multiple wage gap studies: education, hours worked (this includes differences between full-time and part-time and also overtime thanks), work experience, occupation, industry, race, marital status, job tenure, percent of the work populace that is female, region, Metropolitan Statistical Area size, minority status, union, government employment, workplace flexibility, the ability to telecommute, multiple jobs, children, volunteer status…I mean, multiple studies over multiple decades yields an awful lot of variables that have been taken into account.
So let’s look at some others. Let’s look at what are called “free choice factors” which tend to be the main reason you people claim the wage gap doesn’t exist. These are things like choosing a job with more workplace flexibility so you can be around your kids. This is cited as a huge reason to why women actually receive less pay – but it’s a false argument. A couple of economist, doing separate studies, actually found that male-dominated jobs have more flexibility than female-dominated ones. (7 & 8) This means that there are a lot of men who have more ability to drop work to tend to their children, without suffering from wage decreases. In fact, free choice factors like these actually result in larger portions of the wage gap that can’t be explained. (9 & 10)
Yet, they discovered something about all of these factors: that the wage gap can only be partially accounted for by human capital factors and work patterns. (11) This means that, no matter how many variables you factor in, there is going to be a wage gap between a man and a woman doing the exact same job. They also found out that “as explained inequalities decrease, the unexplained portion of the wage gap remains the same.” (12) Translation? The more things you factor in, the lower the number comes down, but only to a point. It eventually reaches a point where there is nothing else you can conceivably factor in, but the number doesn’t go down to zero. That right there is the gender pay gap.
Yes, it exists.
There are things I read about this in my research that don’t surprise me, such as the fact that the differences increase as the careers of men and women progress. (13) The longer you’re in a business and the higher on the ladder you climb, the more likely this will happen. This isn’t happening with minimum wage workers or entry level positions. It’s happening as women are climbing and rising to take positions of real power. That’s where you’re going to find pay discrimination.
For anyone who thinks these studies are looking at a narrow view of things, there have been studies done in quite a few different areas of work. Construction has the least pay gap that I’ve seen – women make 92.2% of what men make in that work. (14) And there are certainly instances where women generally make more than men; in “life, physical and social science technicians”, bakers, teacher’s assistants and “dining room and cafeteria attendants and bar helpers.” (15) Again, things like tips are taken into account. Also, just because there are these inequalities for men doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where women are shut out, the worst of those being physicians and surgeons, “securities, commodities and financial service sales agents”, financial managers and “other business operations specialists.” (16) I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but healthcare and business are two huge things in our economy. This means that most women are experiencing some level of gender wage discrimination, and on a more regular basis than men are experiencing it.
Now, if you’ve followed me for a while then you know that my particular brand of feminism is egalitarian liberal feminism. To translate – I want the sexes to be equal and I want the freedoms that come with being able to make full decisions about my life for myself. Yes, I understand that the libfem view of things is a very individual one and that it’s much more concerned with changing the society we live in than passing any sweeping legislation. I’m very much a libfem because I focus very heavily on rape in our society (it’s the focal point of the career I want) and on women and their reproductive rights. Those are the things I care the most about. But as a feminist, I feel like I need to look at other feminist issues even if they don’t interest me much.
So I’m looking at the gender wage gap, and I’m going to mention that any gender-based pay gap, whether it affects men or women, is a bad thing. Just because women get paid more than men in some areas doesn’t make it okay to ignore a gender pay gap. Their bonuses in these fields exclude men – which makes it bad – and it definitely shouldn’t get used as an excuse to pay discriminate women in other fields.
I have seen arguments that say “If an employer had to pay a man one dollar for the same work a woman can do for 59 cents, why would anyone hire a man?” (17) The argument is that business has a built-in system of punishment for those who pay discriminate – it’s called going out of business. Businesses that lose money because of excessive waste, like overpaying employees among other things, eventually do go out of business. It seemingly makes a lot of sense. But that’s the argument of someone who hasn’t been paying enough attention. For one, large businesses don’t go out of business anymore. Any business that can make enough of a fortune to begin wasting excessively inevitably becomes a) a person and b) “too big to fail” and the government then makes the taxpayers bail them out of their problems – for which they learn nothing and go back to doing whatever the hell they please. This is the problem we are seeing right now in our economy.
But this fact – that businesses can be considered “too big to fail” and thus can’t go out of business – ties into one of the points I was mentioning earlier. That is, one of the worst places for women to work is the financial sector. Most of these businesses that we bailed out were banks. There is nothing that screams “financial sector” more than banks. Yes, the auto industry got a bailout too. But did you notice that it was much, much harder to push that through than it was bailouts for AIG and Bank of America and Citigroup and Wells Fargo and…you get the point right? Actually, only two of the companies that got bailouts were auto companies: Chrysler & GM (and a couple of subsidies of theirs.) Every other company was one in the financial sector, and the majority of those were banks. (18)
Wage disparities might’ve been the least of these companies’ problems but it probably still happened. To think that they would have high enough morals to pay people fairly whilst doing other shadowy shit is naïve at the very least. So these businesses get away with a lot that we probably don’t think of as much as we should. This brings me to a really, incredibly necessary point of talking when talking about wages. That is that most companies have “confidentiality agreements” in contracts that silence employees from talking about wage.
Did you know that? Most employers have a statement of some sort in their employee guidelines titled “Confidentiality of Salary and Benefit Information” and it reads something like this:
“Employees are prohibited from discussing their salary or wage levels and company benefits with other employees. Such information is confidential and may not be discussed in the workplace. Any employee violating this policy will be considered to have committed a breach of confidentiality and will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination of employment.” (19)
I swear to god, these things exist everywhere. I think the Subway Employee Handbook I have has one of these, and Sunoco had one too. Not like they enforce it among low-level employees. Among the minimum wage, where an increase in wage happens mostly because you’ve been there numerous years, they don’t care if you talk about it. And yeah, it’s against the law to have them, even if you’re in a non-union facility. In particular it’s a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, Sections 7 & 8. (20, 21, 22) I’m fairly certain none of you reading this knew that. I’m fairly certain that most employers don’t either. There are a lot of labor restrictions. Unless it’s your job to know them all (like a labor lawyer or something) you probably don’t even know half of them.
The idea behind a wage confidentiality agreement is more about socio-economic statuses than it is about gender. That is, most companies have these agreements – not to stop employees from talking amongst each other – but to stop them from talking about wages with people outside the company. You never think twice about comparing earnings with a fellow who works with you. But you might think twice about doing it with someone who works for the competition. It’s loyalty out of fear. In some ways, it works so that you don’t necessarily know which company in an area hires at more than minimum wage so you don’t leave and all apply there. For instance, when I worked at Sunoco, I was hired at minimum wage. What they don’t tell you until you get there is that you get a $0.25 raise after you finish computer training, which is maybe a couple days of sitting on your ass watching videos and taking tests. So you actually get hired above minimum wage but they don’t want everyone to know that. Subway certainly doesn’t want people to know that, because they don’t have that and therefore they hire you at less. If wages were that transparent everywhere you would certainly choose to apply at higher wage places. Two problems come of that: 1) not everyone who applies will be able to work there and 2) places that may really need workers won’t get enough applicants.
But as a reminder: wage disparities increase as you climb the corporate ladder. Now tack on a “confidentiality” agreement (even if you sign it, it’s still against the law) and you have a perfect cover for wage discrimination to go unnoticed. It’s kind of more a shady way for them to cut corners. And all of this gets worse if you’re not high on the privilege axis.
This is why, in 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (LLFPA). I bet not a lot of you know about this. Why would you, and for that matter, what does it do anyway? Well, you should know about it because it was the very first ever bill that Obama signed into law, and because it’s kinda important too. It’s an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and what it does is make the 180-day statute of limitations for pay discrimination renew with each discriminatory paycheck. This is important. Until 2009, if you didn’t figure out you weren’t being paid right within 180 of the first paycheck, then you couldn’t bring a lawsuit against the company that discriminated against you. With Confidentiality agreements in place in a majority of workplaces, this means a lot of discrimination went unnoticed and – more importantly – unpunished.
How does a law like this become necessary? Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire in one of their factories in Alabama. When she started, her pay was equal to that of her male counterparts. When she retired, however, she found out she was only making $3,727/month, while 15 of her male counterparts were making anywhere from $4,268 to $5,236. The company’s argument is that it gave raises based in part on evaluations and recommendations on worker performance. Ledbetter got several negative reviews early on, which she claimed were discriminatory in nature. This allowed the company to wait to raise her wages and put her far behind her male counterparts. It’s not the evaluations that were under scrutiny however. Originally, she did sue for that, claiming that the negative reviews were biased against her sex. If she had received so many negative reviews, why had she not been fired then? One court found that Goodyear did nothing wrong, an appeal agreed with Ledbetter. Goodyear appealed that decision based on the statute of limitations and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with them. Their decision said that Ledbetter was not allowed to sue for anything that happened before 180 days from the start of the legal processes.
The Supreme Court pretty much upheld that decision, saying that Ledbetter could only sue for discrimination that occurred within the 180 days of the discriminatory checks. However, in Ledbetter’s case, what she was suing for occurred long before the 180 days. There was a dissenting opinion, written and read by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that argued that the 180 day statute should not be applied to pay discrimination, because that kind of discrimination usually occurs in small increments and over a long period of time. When you add that to confidentiality agreements, pay comparisons are difficult to come by and discrimination can go unnoticed until long after the statute runs out. It’s not as obvious as firing a woman for her sex. Pay discrimination is small and hard to recognize.
That’s probably why so many anti-feminists don’t believe it exists.
So that’s why the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is really important. It makes the 180 day statute renew which gives the common person more time to recognize what’s going on and actually be able to get recompense for it.
If anti-feminists are right, then this law is just an extra protection for women and no legislation will ever be brought under it. I hope that they’re right in that respect – but I sincerely doubt it.
But this is why further legislation is still important. Wages need to be crystal clear transparent, and existing pay practices should be looked at closely to make sure that they are fair and neutral, not just for women but for those of a different race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, and gender identification. I’m sure pay discrepancies exist among a lot of minority groups, though I’m not sure how many people have ever noticed it. Remember how I said that wage gaps get worse if you’re not high on the privilege axis? Hispanic women, lesbians, black women – they all suffer worse than white, straight women do. I’m sure black men suffer from some pay discrimination that’s never gotten properly looked at simply because they’re men and we don’t usually think about that. What about those that have immigrated to this country legally? Are they being discriminated against for the simple fact that they’re not born Americans? What can be done?
That’s why legislation is still being discussed to further reduce whatever of the gender-pay gap does exist. It’s called the Paycheck Fairness Act and it’s being floated around the House of Representatives – though it is admittedly not high on the priority list.
And before anti-feminists decide to derail the conversation by making things up about the bill, I’m going to outline what its aims are here.
- Make wages more transparent (I would argue that this would help eliminate those pesky and persistent “confidentiality agreements”)
- Require that employers prove that wage discrepancies – when brought before a court – are tied to legitimate business qualifications (I emphasize this because believing a woman can’t do a job because of her gender isn’t legitimate and gender stereotypes/bias does actually exist.)
- Prohibit companies from taking retaliatory actions against employees who raise concerns about gender-based wage discrimination.
It’s simple, really. What it wants to do is examine seemingly neutral pay practices and see if they really are that – neutral. Do they serve a legitimate business purpose, or are they just hoops to jump? I mean, this is good for businesses too. This should help eliminate some types of waste. Less paperwork = better efficiency which ups a business’ productivity. If a business can prove that the discrepancy is due to education, training or experience then they’re golden. And it applies, rather gender neutrally I might add, to other minority groups.
It’s still on the employee, not the employer, to prove that the discrimination is based on sex. It’s the employee’s job to find a male employee of the same company who makes more money for performing equal work, requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions. These are things that have always been on the employee under the Equal Pay Act of 1963. So the fact that under those high burdens – and they are high – women have still been able to bring paycheck discrimination suits and win them proves that a discriminatory wage gap due to sex does exist.
And the Paycheck Fairness Act will still allow employers to give pay discrepancies based on legitimate things like merit, seniority and quantity/quality of production. But the Act wants to make sure that businesses aren’t giving bullshit reasons that seem neutral but are a cover for sex-based discrimination. For example, under the current law a “factor other than sex” that could be given for pay discrimination by an employer is an employee’s height or weight – even if those factors have nothing to do with the job being discussed.
Because there are still shady practices that businesses employ, it’s crucial that we make businesses accountable for what they do. They have far too much power and leeway in our system to begin with. After all, the courts have declared that businesses can be considered “a person” under the law – and we’ve all seen what’s come of that. That trend needs to be reversed. Businesses need to be held accountable for their bullshit rather than be given a pass to be as bigoted as they want to be.
So yeah. 6 pages and 3,000+ words later and I think I’ve covered debunked all of the anti-feminist arguments and proven how and why pay discrimination based on gender can and still does exist. Whew. Have fun coming at me.
4 – Paula England PDF
5 – Wikipedia citation
7 – Jennifer Glass PDF
8 – Jacobs PDF
9 – Wood PDF
10 – Blau PDF
12 – http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Earnings&ContentRecord_id=db19df76-9299-4b46-a98c-ef33c21dab3d&ContentType_id=2206321f-9e59-4f98-b972-d78c64abf642&Group_id=51e071bd-07e9-46f2-bb70-cfc28baec8be
17 – Warren Farrell Why Men Earn More