If women earned 77 cents on a man’s dollar, as some claim, what company would ever hire a man? Businesses would dismiss their male employees and hire cheaper labor if this statistic were true. They aren’t and it’s not.
Why does the 77-cents-on-the-dollar statistic paint a false picture? Because when you take into account men’s and women’s choices regarding occupations, college majors, and time on the job, the wage gap all but disappears. A 2009 Labor Department study found the wage gap is between 4.8 and 7 cents on the dollar when such choices are taken into consideration. The Independent Women’s Forum has a three-minute video that explains the statistics behind the wage gap.
Women tend to have fewer accumulated hours and years in their occupation than men. A full-time male employee works 8-10 percent more hours than a full-time female employee. Additionally, many women take time off or work part time to care for children, which impacts their income trajectory.
That trajectory often starts off at a lower level because women are less likely to negotiate their first salary. A Carnegie Mellon study found that male MBA graduates made on average almost $4,000 more than female MBA graduates. When researchers dug deeper, they found that only 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate their initial salaries while the rest just accepted their employers’ first offer. Fifty-seven percent of males negotiated for more. A man who starts his career with a salary $4,000 higher will continue to outpace his female colleagues if both receive the same yearly raises.
Teaching young women negotiating skills in high school, trade school, or college seems like a common-sense solution.
Maybe it’s catching on. Last year, Time magazine found that a single woman in her 20s in Dallas makes $1.18 to a man’s $1.00. She might change her priorities in a decade and take time off to raise children, work part time, work from home, or some combination of work and life that makes sense to her.
Women have exceptional opportunities and flexibility to accomplish their goals in life. While there are still a few old dinosaurs out there stuck in the tar pit of prejudice against women, the majority of American men and women are decent, law-abiding citizens. Wage discrimination is against the law. The Equal Pay Act, signed into law on June 10, 1963, made it illegal to “discriminate … on the basis of sex … except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.” Where wage discrimination exists, women have legal recourse.
Otherwise women can empower themselves by strengthening their negotiation skills and by recognizing the trade-offs that come with career choices. We have equal opportunity to pursue our dreams, whatever they may be. Clamoring for politicians or bureaucrat bean-counters to become more involved in our lives and choices is not the answer.
Equal Pay Day was this week. It’s time for women to seize equal pay!
Krista Kafer is the director of Colorado’s Future Project.