For me, perhaps the most frustrating financial issue in this presidential election cycle is the gender pay gap discussion. After reading up on the issue, I personally believe that, in some cases, there are, in fact, pay discrepancies that cannot be explained other than by some form of gender bias. However, I also believe that the politically motivated misleading statistics that are so often used — and the frequent comparisons of apples to oranges, as if they were apples to apples — are unfortunate, and I am sure confusing for the general public.
The often heard assertions that women only make 77, 79 or 82 cents for every dollar a man makes “for doing the same work” reminds me of the assertion by the “college for everyone crowd” that college graduates make $23,000 more a year than high school graduates. As we have discussed, while that is true, ON AVERAGE, it is in large part because in that number are all of the $1 billion-a-year hedge fund managers with college degrees and other very high-income earners. After a while, in too many political debates like these two, the word average is forgotten, and they just speak in absolutes.
Similarly, there are almost an infinite number of reasons why, ON AVERAGE, women may make that 23 percent less. You have no doubt heard them all, including that women take more time off to raise or take care of their families (children and elderly parents); women by choice have more part-time jobs; and women choose lower paying professions or areas of specialty within a profession (a family physician rather than a neurosurgeon).
In connection with that last factor, we know that education alone does not necessarily close the gender gap, and I found a Georgetown University study very interesting. It indicated that nine out of 10 of the highest paid majors were dominated by men, and nine out of 10 of the lowest paid majors were dominated by women.
Here are a few other interesting things that I learned from my research, which, again, is about averages, not absolutes.
The wage gap is only 9 percent for union workers, (you would think that it would be zero), and only 13 percent for hourly workers. Also interesting was that the wage gap is only 10 percent before age 30, and only 4 percent for women who never married and never had children. In that regard, a 2010 analysis found that for unmarried, childless women under 30, they actually earn more than men on average.
This one makes sense, but it never occurred to me. Women with student loan debt have a more difficult time paying it off if they experience a gender pay gap, and they probably didn’t factor that in when they incurred the debt.
Also, the gender pay gap may differ dramatically from state to state. So the gap, according to one source, in Washington D.C. is only10 percent, and only 13 percent in New York. On the other end of the spectrum, the gap is 33 percent in Utah, and 35 percent in Louisiana.
Here are some things that made sense to me that could be done to eliminate, or at least lessen, any gender wage gap in cases where we can actually determine and be honest about what constitutes “equal work,” if that is, in fact, the test. For example, I know from my own experience, that not every executive secretary in the same law firm “works” as hard. It may depend upon the kind of work the attorney does that they work for. Some lawyers will spend a lot of their time in meetings or in court, while others will turn out reams of paperwork every day. On the other hand, some in the debate could see this as equal position, thus equal contribution, rather than literally equal work.
First, women, through mentors, seminars or online courses, could be taught and encouraged to negotiate more, and negotiate more effectively for higher or equal pay. Some of the gap is generally believed to be because of this lack of negotiation.
Second, increased pay transparency could be implemented, if necessary, by pay fairness legislation, which would allow employees to learn about the pay of similarly situated employees, or at least to be able to discuss pay with other employees without consequences.
Third, if Americans were willing to pay for the necessary programs and subsidies, more affordable child care, and paid sick, family, and maternity leave would close some of the gap.
Last, equal pay legislation, if the provisions were actually workable and fair.
By the way, April 12 is Equal Pay Day.
Next, we still have some presidential election cycle issues to discuss.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program.