On Equal Pay Day, Busting 4 Top Myths About the Wage Gap

This year’s Equal Pay Day falls on April 12, marking how far into 2011 the average woman must work in order to earn what the average man had by the end of 2010. In the 15 years since Equal Pay Day was established, the gender wage gap has barely budged, moving from 74 percent in 1996 to 77 percent in 2010. This amounts to a three-cent increase in women’s wages for every dollar earned by men. Given that women make up half of the workforce, the gender wage gap does not generate the outrage that it should, as is clear from the failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act last November.

Polls confirm that most people believe women and men doing the same job should receive the same pay. But many are unaware of the extent of the problem, believe the wage gap is a result of women’s choices or think that the gap is a relic of the past. Thus, Equal Pay Day is the perfect time for some myth busting.

Myth #1: The wage gap is a result of women’s choices.

We’re less likely to think the wage gap is a problem if we believe it stems from women’s individual choices—to choose one job or field of study over another, to “opt out” of the workforce to raise children, or to fail to negotiate for higher pay. These arguments, prevalent in the media, overlook important research to the contrary. For one, men are perceived as more accomplished than women even when they have the same resumes. As for women “opting out” to become mothers, author Pamela Stone shows [PDF] that many professional women who leave their jobs to engage in full-time caregiving are not “opting out” but are “pushed out”: They are stigmatized and their attempts to stay on the career track are stymied. Correspondingly, Stanford sociologist Shelley Correll found that mothers are less likely to be hired and are offered lower salaries than fathers and women without children.

Furthermore, while it’s true that men are more likely to be working in higher-paid fields, women make less money than men even when they occupy the same jobs. Researchers at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that in the largest 108 occupations, men outearn women in all but four: (1) life, physical, and social science technicians, (2) bakers, (3) teacher assistants and (4) dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers. With respect to negotiation, researchers at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon have demonstrated that although women are less likely to negotiate, they are penalized more heavily than men when they negotiate.

Myth #2: The wage gap is a relic of the past.

Concerns about equal pay may have been mitigated by recent reports that in major cities, single, childless women in their 20s are out-earning their male counterparts. But several important details are often left out of the headlines. First, the pay gap between women and men is smallest when they are young and just entering the workforce, occupying lower-paid positions. As time passes, the wage gap increases as men move up the ladder more quickly and receive bigger raises. Second, young women are now more likely than men to graduate from college, allowing more of them to find higher-paying entry-level jobs. Controlling for education, college-educated men who work full-time earn 33 percent more than college-educated women full-time workers. Third, the good news holds only for young, unmarried, childless women. This might be a harbinger of good news if women were likely to remain single and childless for their lifetimes. However, almost all women marry and/or have children, both of which lower their earnings. Married women earn only 72 percent as much as married men, compared to an overall wage gap of 77 percent. Women with children suffer a wage penalty of 4 percent for the first child and 12 percent for each additional child—a penalty that is not explained by work experience, education, or other factors that affect pay.

Myth #3:  The economic recession favored women.

The recent economic recession was dubbed a “mancession” because the male-dominated construction industry took the first major blow. But now it’s women’s jobs that are disproportionately on the line as cuts to professions such as education and nursing are becoming more frequent. Even as the unemployment rate has dropped again, to 8.8 percent for the general public, it’s still 12.3 percent for women who maintain families.

Women are also less likely to have jobs that come with important fringe benefits such as paid sick days and employer-sponsored retirement benefits. Without such benefits, women’s ability to save money for a rainy day is hindered, leaving them more economically vulnerable when they lose their jobs.

Myth #4: The wage gap affects only women.

It’s time we realized that equal pay is a pressing social issue that affects not only women, but also families. Women’s incomes are critical to families’ economic well-being. The majority of married couples depend on earnings from women to support their households, and close to one-quarter of children live in single-mother families. Experts estimate that there would be at least a 50 percent reduction in poverty if women earned the same incomes as men in their field.

Imagine how much stronger families could be economically if the wage gap were eliminated. Perhaps the safety net would not have to be as wide. Perhaps fewer families would be facing foreclosure. It’s time that the issue of equal pay attract the attention that it deserves.  The economic strength of our families and our nation depend on it.

Photo from Flickr user openDemocracy through Creative Commons.


  1. It's no secret that women bear the brunt of child care in a marriage. That makes it easier for men to work longer hours and be more flexible with their hours even allowing for business travel. Until women are no longer expected to do the majority of household chores and raise the children the majority of the time they will suffer this wage penalty.

    • Tom Massey says:

      JED, I got distracted. Here’s my reply for you. Women typically care about family more than men. I thank God for women that care about family, boys, girls and men. I hope that never changes. It’s hard to compete against people who are more committed than you are. I’m glad their job is typically not the #1 thing in a woman’s life.

  2. I would live to share this with my friends on facebook but the share button it's not user friendly on my phone.

  3. Thanks so much for this useful post! We linked to it in the MomsRising fair pay blog-a-thon, here :http://www.momsrising.org/blog/dont-shortchange-our-moms-daughters-and-families-a-blog-a-thon-for-fair-pay-day/

    Anita, MomsRising.org

  4. Beverly Prather says:

    No woman should have to walk into an office of a man that raped 20 women.

    When the boss is raping the office help, police, courts, Judges, DOJ, someone in the government, should go get him and put him in prison…..the woman should not be subjected to years of government “investigations” by video surveillance.

    The government went after me with high teck cybersurveillance, for reporting a rapist to the government……..with 6 billion in VAWA funding and satelite technology…….I think the government could have taken a rapist out of the general population before he was on rape number 20

    I would like help to make the government put a rapist in prison. That is why we have a government, courts, police…etc.

    I can be reached at beverlyprather1@verizon.net

  5. ugh and i was thinking working women with a degree who were childless would at least make as much money (or more) as compared to her male counterpart but no he will earn more just cuz he has a degree and is guy (this btw just doesn’t make sense to me)

    I lose faith in humanity everyday

  6. Say I run a factory. I hire 100 people. Half are men. Half are women.

    I pay men $1 an hour. I pay women 78 cents an hour for the same work.

    Now explain this to me. Why would I hire men at all if I can pay women less for the same work?

  7. Ive worked for five Fortune 500 companies this past 30 years, not a stat I proud to be changing jobs so much. I just want to point out that each company has a female as its head human resources. It is they who have a say what women are making. When department managers pass out pay raises, a female human resources director must sign off on them. As of yet today, have I seen any female human resources professional ensure woman are paid equitably. I have yet to see them advocate for women in the companies which Ive worked. My conclusion based on a whopping five companies (do I have to point out I understand it is a small sample size when I am speaking to intelligent people???) that when in position of power, I do not see women actually going out of their way to promote women’s right for equal pay. Im sure there are some cases of example out there, but I would not know of them, as I am looking.

  8. Please! Please! LADIES, we need to start sticking TOGETHER, instead of critizing and competeing against each other. Power in numbers.

  9. The idea of a gender based wage gap today seems as antiquated as the vintage school book illustrations you can view here http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2013/09/02/working-women/

  10. Sources please? I am writing a gender gap paper.

Speak Your Mind


Error, no Ad ID set! Check your syntax!