Nokyoung Xayasane
April 09, 2013

Equal Pay Day: Is the Wage Gap a Myth or What?

We’ve all heard it before: for every dollar a man earns, a similarly educated and experienced woman only earns 77 cents. Some claim the wage gape is widening, while others say it’s contracting. Others still deny its very existence.

This year’s Equal Pay Day falls on April 9, and symbolizes how far into 2013 women have to work in order to match men’s earnings for 2012, if the wage gap does indeed exist.

So, in honor of Equal Pay Day, we ask: is the wage gap a myth or what?

Myth: It’s all a myth, like unicorns and fat-free ice cream

Wage-gap deniers are calling BS on this whole gender-based wage gap. They point to three parts of the so-called myth that may have us burning our bras for no good reason. According to the wage gap skeptics:

1) Women don’t get paid less for equal work — they just don’t do equal work

Some claim wage inequality doesn’t exist — that instead, women and men aren’t paid equally because their work is inherently unequal. For example, women, on average, work fewer hours than men even when they’re technically full-time workers. Plus, women are said to pursue lower-paying jobs, choosing to work in helping professions instead of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. These women-preferred jobs include elder care, nursing, teaching, nutrition, health services and social work, which pay less than male-dominated professions like mining, engineering and operating construction machinery.

Wage-gap deniers would say that this Census study, which says women nurses make 16 percent less than male nurses, proves their point — since the study claims women still work fewer hours (as full-time workers) and in lower-paying positions than their male counterparts. After all, when economists compare men and women in the same job with the same experience who are working for the same company, the analysts find that they earn about the same.

This makes me wonder what “about the same” means. Close but not close enough? In the case of male and female nurses, there’s still a nine percent disparity when full-time hours are taken into account.

Isn’t this the very definition of inequality? Or is there a point at which the differences become statistically insignificant for women and men who hold the same seniority, same position and work at the same company?

2) Women aren’t discouraged from enrolling in higher-paying jobs

Bollocks, say the wage-gap naysayers, there’s no such discouragement going on. Women have free will and can choose to pursue higher-paying jobs, say the dudes who know exactly what all women everywhere can and can’t do.

A study done in October 2010 said while women represented the minority of applicants for electrical engineering and physics jobs (around 11 and 12 percent), they received the majority of the job offers (32 and 20 percent). Women were also more likely than men to get hired when they applied to these male-dominated fields.

3) The glass ceiling doesn’t keep women from getting to the top

According to wage-gap mythbusters, there is no glass ceiling or any unseen and unspoken barriers that keep women from getting to the top of their field; there are just choices women make that keep the corner office out of reach.

These choices include seeking part-time jobs, which allow them a distinct work-life balance (or the more contemporary “work-personal fit”). Women apparently seek jobs with flexibility and generous parental leave rather than higher-paying positions.

Fact: It’s as real as my love of late ’90s boy bands

For those who acknowledge the wage gap, it’s not a question of it being a myth, but rather an inquiry as to why this ish exists.

1) Women do get paid less for equal work

Earlier we talked about reasons why women may make less than men: full-time isn’t really full-time for women, and they choose lower-paying jobs in order to have more time for family and personal needs. However, a study from AAUW found a persistent seven percent gender wage gap with workers who are one year out of college and who have the same grades, same majors, same choice of occupation and same seniority.

The wage gap still persisted for women who decided not to become moms or take time out for education and family reasons.

“When women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less,” says the report.

2) The “ambition gap” doesn’t exist

Parties from both the left and right side blame the wage gap on women’s lack of ambition, aptly calling it the “ambition gap.” According to proponents of the ambition gap, women either make an explicit choice to put family and personal needs before work, or they don’t know how to ask for what they’re worth. You know, the image of the mother in a business suit looking longingly at her flour-stained apron and bemoaning her wallflower personality — a personality which keeps her from making it into the upper echelons and stalled in middle management? Yeah, that misleading image.

Well, guess what? Researchers from the Catalyst organization discovered something odd. The ambition gap … well, it ain’t there, folks.

Women ask for raises and promotions – they just don’t get them. Women are more likely than men to seek out skill-building opportunities to make their achievements more visible, according to the study. They’re also not afraid to spar in the boss’s office and ask for their just desserts: “47 percent of women and 52 percent of men had asked for a higher salary during the hiring process, and 14 percent of women and 15 percent of men had asked for a higher position.” A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found similar results.

3) Women are still bumping their heads against the glass ceiling

So, if women are equally as ambitious and the ambition gap is a bunch of hooey, then why does this gender-based wage gap exist? It may be because of the types of assignments and projects that men and women are given at work. According to a recent study by Catalyst, men are given larger and more important assignments, twice the project budget, three times more employees and more visibility to the bosses.

Another reason may be due to management biases. In one study, 184 managers were asked to assign raises to their employees. Male workers, on average, were given two to three times the amount of money even before anyone sat down to negotiate.

These biases could be the reason why women still have Equal Pay Day – you know, as a little reminder that women know their worth even if they’re getting the short end of the stick.