Yes, Being a Woman Makes You Poorer

Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that would make it illegal for employers to punish workers for discussing wages and would require them to share pay information with the Employment Opportunity Commission. President Barack Obama has already signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from punishing employees who talk about their pay. These two actions were pegged to the somewhat made up holiday called “Equal Pay Day” celebrated Tuesday, and were discussed by many in Washington in merely political terms: evidence of attempts by Democrats to woo women voters and a continuing sign of Republicans' “difficulties” with them.

Elsewhere, pundits and writers wanted to discuss whether the pay gap really existed. A few years ago, some conservatives and a few liberals began to attack the much-talked-about fact that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar as untrue, based largely on the idea that the gap itself was mostly accounted for by women’s “choices.” (The 77-cents-to-every-dollar gap describes the average difference between men and women's salaries and has been stuck there for a decade.) It is largely true that much of the gap can be explained by what sociologists have started to call the motherhood penalty: women with children make less than women without children, and the latter have nearly achieved parity with men in the same jobs. Yet when career choice and other factors are controlled for, women start out the first year after college making less than comparable men do, and their salaries grow less over time. Some argue that the motherhood penalty can be explained by the fact that women are choosing to have children, and are often taking some amount of time off work to take care of them when they’re young. The question of why there’s no fatherhood gap, or why men rarely choose to take time off to care for young children, remains unexplained.

The other component is that women dominate in college majors leading to fields with relatively low salaries, like early childhood education, while men dominate in the high-paying ones, like engineering. All of these things, however, ignore the fact that choices aren’t made in a vacuum, and pretend as though the only real gender discrimination happens when a manager sits in his dark office poring over ledgers, dutifully subtracting 23 cents per dollar from every worker in the female column. Discrimination is more complicated and often internalized, in everything from little girls picking up subtle cues they’re bad at math or building things, to pregnant women seeing their hours cut at work even when they haven’t asked for such a change or don’t want it. It also doesn’t account for an odd distinction made between “women’s” and “men’s” fields. Call yourself a janitor, and you make about $3,000 more dollars a year than if you are a maid or a housekeeper.

As for stay-at-home mothers, the picture is more mixed. About two-thirds of the nation’s stay-at-home mothers are married and their husband’s are working, and most of them say they are home primarily to take care of their children. A small but growing share, 6 percent, say they are home because they can’t find a job. (That’s up from 1 percent in 2000.) Most mothers say they would like to work, at least part-time. The seven-point growth of stay-at-home mothers during the recession hints that at least some of it is because those women aren’t finding the jobs they like. The childcare picture likely contributes to the push for women, especially single women, to stay at home to care for children, too. The cost of childcare is increasingly too expensive for middle- and upper-income families, and states don’t have enough money for the vouchers meant to help lower-income women. Women are much more likely to have minimum-wage jobs than men, and female-headed households are more likely to be poor, so the costs far outpace their ability to pay.

Which brings me to another point: the gender wage gap contributes to poverty or near poverty. Added up over a year, the 23-cent pay-gap means women lose $11,000. They never make it up, and it just accumulates over their lives. I spoke to a woman last week named Christoria Hughes, a 57-year-old who works in the cafeteria of a hospital in Pittsburgh. She and others are trying to unionize for better pay and working conditions while they’re employer, UMPC, keeps fighting it. Hughes makes $12.85 an hour, so she’s not exactly making minimum wage. She hasn’t made the case that she’s being discriminated against compared to the male workers in her unit. But her life captures the challenges many women face in the workforce. Hughes has worked for years in food service, but took time off to move to South Carolina and care for some of her seven grandchildren so that her daughter could continue to work. She continues to care for them now, and lives with her daughters. They moved to Pittsburgh because one of her grandchildren enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh. Another daughter works at CVS, and because of Obamacare she’s on her mother’s health care plan, which costs Hughes $60 a pay period, but is aging out soon. Hughes works next to someone who’s been at the hospital for 30 years, and makes only $13 an hour. “We just want to be able to take care of our family,” she says. “The hospital says you’re only going to be working there a short time, but a short time turns into a long time when you’re trying to make a family. When what you’re making is enough to get by and you want to get ahead. I was raised in a poor household. We tried to get better and better and better. When you have jobs like this…” Hughes’s life doesn’t feel full of choices.

Mitch McConnell, leader of Republicans in the Senate, acknowledged that the more women live in poverty now than before. “In other words,” he was quoted saying in The New York Times, “When it comes to American women over all, what we’ve seen over the past five and a half years is less income and more poverty. That’s the story Senate Democrats don’t want to talk about.” What does McConnell think the act was for, if not to improve the economic lives of women?

Comments

Team:
I know I have asked this one before (the response being chirp, chirp, chirp). Maybe this time someone can come to my rescue: which is it – cheapskate evil corporations nickel and diming us at every turn? Or foolish corporations willing to pay a major penalty for their insecurities? You can’t have it both ways. Personally, I suspect it is closer to the former, and if this magic “gap” were real, corporations would save23% of their labor costs by hiring as many females as possible!

You probably haven't received replies because that exact same question has been asked of every equal pay initiative from Jim Crow onwards, and if you haven't read the reasons why it was ridiculous when applied to African-Americans and indigenous people, you obviously don't care enough about the answer to actually want to hear it again when applied to women. But what the hey, here goes.

The short answer is that bigotry is by definition never logical and corporations have many inefficiencies caused by the personal prejudices and agendas of all people constituting the corporation. Additionally, social messaging, the education system, the sexism of individual men who don't do their share of child care and housework (statistically, the majority of men), and cultures of harassment in many high-paying jobs all play a part.

Quite a few companies do! It's called out sizing!;or would you have us forget how Romney attempted to convince us that those Chinese girls "loved their new prison sic housing!

It never fails to amaze me...
Am article talks about a gender gap in pay, then focuses on a food service worker that has been there all her life...
I was a food service worker- 25 years ago.... Paying my way through college...
To earn the technical degree to make the money I wanted to make in the field I knew I would love...
My guess is that the female food service worker above does not make 23% less than her male counterpart...
So women without children are said to have closed the gender gap.
My other guesses are that men with stay-at-home wives make more than men who share the childcare duties...
I narrow it down to this:
"How much of your life do you give to your employer? Your pay within that field is likely relative to the energy you can put into that job...
The more other obligations you have, the more likely you have to turn down offers for promotion ( or are not given those offers) so that you can still take your kids to school and back every day.
That doesn't sound like a fairness problem, it sounds like a pay-for-performance plan...
When you show real data of pay for make vs female pharmacist, MD, dentist, lawyer. Those who count on an education and hourly rates, then I'll listen. Show me the pay rates per hour of those professions...
Otherwise, I don't see apples-to-apples comparison...

sorry, Gigi, your argument is too based on your experiences! take mine ! I worked at the University to help my mom build a house! Only in the minds of fanatics is the pay gap narrowed by women without children! As a single woman, I know that the performance of my counterparts that are married or have children are the same as mine! I am no longer buying your "Work harder,smarter, whiter, more manly and you will be paid better! I've had products made by your harder,smarter etc! I want my money back!

The following report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks the disparity down between occupations: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswom2012.pdf
And to give you a highlight, women physicians earn just 67.9% of a male physician's wage.

In Dr. Sowell’s column today: “I was amazed to learn that young male doctors earned much higher incomes than young female doctors. But it wasn't so amazing after I discovered that young male doctors worked over 500 hours more per year than young female doctors.” We have got to do something about the facts if we want to keep preaching this “77 percent” fabrication!

you might want to read something not written by male doctors! My mom and a lot of other nurses were polled! they saw female physicians working three times as many hours as males! when confronted with these facts, the doctors retreated to they're mysiogonistic responses about female doctors not doing the hard work! When the nurses confronted them with that lie, the doctors tried to pit the nurses against the female doctors! end result: I now know that it is the Female doctors thar work 500 hours more than male doctors and female nurses work twice as long! No wonder my mom didn't want me to be a nurse! She should see how much more a male librarian earns over a woman with a PHD in Library and Archival Science!

The following report from the BLS provides occupational breakdown information. http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswom2012.pdf
An example: among physicians, a woman makes 67.9% of a male's wage.

by that rationale doesn't it mean that the poorer you get the more womanly you become?

I think you've got a straw man here:

All of these things, however, ignore the fact that choices aren’t made in a vacuum, and pretend as though the only real gender discrimination happens when a manager sits in his dark office poring over ledgers, dutifully subtracting 23 cents per dollar from every worker in the female column.

No one in the world actually thinks this and claiming that they do makes a hash of the issue. If women get paid less for the same work, as your stat about starting salary indicates, that's a problem that can be solved. And will be solved if we focus on it.

But if you set up a choice between progress which entails a radical reworking of gender roles and a massive outlay for child care or no progress at all, then you're going to get no progress at all.

We do need to change traditional gender roles and we do need state funded child care. The way to reach those goals is to be honest about both the problems and the solutions. Not a bunch of handwaving designed to hide the fact that it doesn't make sense to pay equally if women choose, for whatever reason, to have less experience or to spend fewer hours on the job.

"And will be solved if we focus on it."

Half the country votes for a party that just killed seriously the bare minimum of focus we could have on this issue, so I think you might be wildly optimistic.

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