Transforming Our Thinking About the Wage Gap

Persistent in the minds of many is the notion that career choice and career path primarily determines women’s wages. While it is a factor, it does not fully explain the gender wage gap. “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” AAUW‘s latest research, examines the issue for female and male college graduates one year out of school. “Controlling for hours, occupation, college major, employment sector, and other factors associated with pay, the pay gaps shrinks but does not disappear. Indeed, a third of the gap cannot be explained by any factors commonly understood to affect earnings, indicating that other factors that are more difficult to identify — and likely more difficult to measure — contribute to the pay gap.”

And, for African American women (64%) and Latinas (55%) in the United States the pay disparity is even harder felt. Michigan African American women earn 69 cents to every dollar a Non-Hispanic white male earns.

In occupations where women dominate — i.e., elementary and middle school teachers, secretaries and administrative assistants, registered nurses, customer service representatives — men’s median weekly earnings are higher than women’s, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2010 data. For example, male registered nurses median weekly earnings were $1,201; women registered nurses earned $1,039, a 13.5% gap in a field in which the share of female workers is 90.5%.

In the occupational area of secretaries and administrative assistants, where women represent a 95.7% share, men in those same positions are earning almost five percent more than women ($547 vs. $529).  The data shows that in 107 out of the 111 most popular occupations, women have lower median earnings than men, regardless of levels of education, including in the 10 most common occupations for women.

State median annual earnings and earnings ratio for full-time year-round workers, ages 16 and older rank Michigan 45 with men’s earnings at $50,053; and women’s earnings at $36,931.

So what does that look in more practical marketplace terms? What could Michigan women do with the extra $13,122?  If the gender gap did not exist, the additional dollars could pay for (2010 average annual costs): housing ($11,223), food ($3,450), education ($6,458), utilities ($2,331), childcare ($10,114), transportation and fuel costs ($4,011), healthcare ($2,027), pension and social security contributions ($2,427), savings and wealth building ($5,002).

Pay equity is not simply a women’s issue – it’s a family issue.  Families increasingly rely on women’s wages to make ends meet. Women’s incomes in married households contributed 36 percent of total family income in 2008, up from 29 percent in 1983. This increased income contributes to the overall economic vitality of the nation.  All of which means that our collective thinking about pay equality must transform in fundamental ways as it is an economic security issue that impacts everyone.

Janet Watkins

President – AAUW of Michigan

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