By Julia Kemp
Women’s labor participation and involvement in higher education has grown considerably since the second half of the 20th century. In fact, a larger percent of women participate in higher education than men today. However, significant wage gaps between men and women persist despite the great achievements of female involvement in the workplace and education. The gender wage gap measures the relative difference in pay between men and women. As of 2020, women made an average of 81 cents for every dollar made by a man.
The average pay gap can vary, however, when narrowed down to lower and upper ends of the wage distribution. This variation can most likely be attributed to minimum wages that create a wage floor. This minimum prevents women from making less than a man in a profession where they are both making the smallest possible wage. At the 10th percentile of wage distribution, women make 92 cents for each dollar earned by a man, while at the 95th percentile women make 74 cents for every male dollar. While the wage gap varies depending on pay level, men do make more than women at every wage level.
The gender wage gaps also greatly vary depending on race and ethnicity. Compared to the average white man’s hourly salary, Asian women make $2.15 less, white women make $4.00 less, black women make $7.31 less, and Hispanic women make $8.91 less.
An argument against the significance of gender wage gaps in the contribution to discrimination against women might be that women spend less time in the workplace and generally have less work experience. While it is true that women typically have less experience in the workplace, this is often caused by the pressure of social norms for women which lead to the temporary absences from work. For example, women often leave their jobs to care for children or elderly relatives, but only 40 percent of employers offer paid parental leave. Furthermore, women with children make less than women without children, even though first-time mothers are often older and therefore have more work experience than women without children. The argument that women leave work more often and therefore, have a cause for a lower wage only further enforces the discrimination against women in the workplace. Women have less experience because of the social norm that a woman should leave and take care of a family while new fathers go back to work almost immediately. A wage penalty for motherhood persists, even though women with children have generally more experience in higher education and have more qualifications.
The cultural attitudes towards women in the workplace and in education greatly contribute to the wage gaps. Girls are deferred from interests in STEM, young women are less likely to major in engineering, computer science, or physics, and women rather than men are more heavily pressured to stay home with children. The wage gap is real, and it is due to the discrimination of women in education and in the workplace. The statistical evidence of the gender wage gap should show that there is clear discrimination of women that needs to be focused on.