Do women earn less in the U.S. workforce because of gender bias?
- ‘Gender bias’ is defined as “unfair differences in the way a person is treated because of their gender,” and in legal terms, “unequal treatment in employment opportunity, and expectations due to attitudes based on the sex of an employee or group of employees.”
- The gender wage gap is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by dividing the average earnings of all men working full time by the average earnings of all women working full time.
- Earnings between male and female workers were first compared in 1979, with women’s earnings averaging out to 62% of men’s. Since 2004, that ratio has remained in the 80 to 83 percent range.
- According to a 2019 poll, most Americans believe a pay gap exists, however, 46% of men surveyed thought the pay gap was “made up to serve a political purpose.”
If women earned only 77 cents of every dollar earned by men, employers would hire exclusively women to protect their bottom line. The fact that this does not happen points to the reality of how the gender wage gap is mainly myth. Gender wage gap statistics don’t account for the differing individual career choices and other factors made by men and women. These relevant factors include a person's occupational choices, positions held, education level, job tenure, marital status, parental leave, dangerous or physically demanding work conditions, and overall hours worked per week.
Surveys of college majors show that men dominate the highest-paying majors (STEM fields), while women dominate the lowest-paying majors (counseling psychology, childhood education, liberal arts). These areas of work offer vastly different compensation rates. Even in the same careers, men and women make different choices that impact how much money they earn. For instance, women in medicine gravitate to specialties that offer regular hours but are less highly compensated than in other areas. Men can earn more on average than women by working longer hours (averaging at 43.3 hours per week while women report 41 hours), often working in physically demanding and dangerous environments (construction, logging, oil rigging), and are involved with inflexible commutes that are less family-friendly.
The gender wage gap would only be unacceptable if it meant women made less than men for doing the exact same work with the same number of hours in the same job with the same educational background and exactly the same years of uninterrupted work experience. Calling the individual choices made by free Americans 'labor market discrimination' and suggesting that American women are manipulated into their life choices by forces beyond their control is degrading to their agency as educated and self-determining human beings.
Completely ascribing the gender pay gap to external factors disregards the systemic sexism and racism that led to fewer opportunities for women. Some common criticisms of the gender pay gap can be dispelled when looking at relevant contradicting details.
When it comes to educational attainment and career choices/advancement, women have been denied admission to colleges in the top-paying professions leading to trickle-down segregation of 'male' and 'female' professions and mentors. Studies show that students and workers perform better when their professors/supervisors look like them, which, unfortunately, is not the case for most women. Men in the workforce are more likely to hire and mentor other men due to their confirmation biases. Additionally, the recent #MeToo movement has seen a rise of anti-women hiring sentiments from male employers due to the risk of sexual harassment allegations.
In regards to a woman's personal choice of marriage/motherhood over career, economists have proven that there exists a 'marriage penalty' in earnings for women. Motherhood is seen as the most significant deterrent to equal pay in the marriage penalty theory. This would prove definite bias against women since men are half responsible for birth but are not held economically liable by losing their job for child care or having a break in work that results in reduced earnings.
Critics who cite fewer working hours for working mothers do so choosing to ignore the patriarchal roots of society that dictate a woman to be the primary caregiver for children. In same-sex male couples, there is no such thing as a marriage penalty because of equal assumption of childcare responsibilities. Are women helpless puppets of society? No. But do women have a steeper slope to climb to attain the same earnings as men? Absolutely.