Is There a Gender Wage Gap?

Is there still a large gender wage gap? Not all of the number crunching from the 2010 census has been done yet, but when we look at the data collected in the census of 2000, we find that–as an example–in Alabama, men who work full time under the title of “chief executives” make $82,462 annually, while women in that category make just $46,650. The averages for the country as a whole are $95,982 and $61,134. If we do some number crunching we see that women who are chief executives in Alabama make 46% less than men in that position. That compares to the national average of 36% less for women.

That is definitely a gender wage gap, in Alabama and in the country. But what is the cause? Some will tell you that it’s because women take time off to have children, and so their wages are lower by choice. Of course the question here is; 46% lower?

When you get to the less-skilled jobs the gender wage gap gets narrower. For example, the data shows that women in the U.S. who are postal service clerks average $38,608, which is only 5% less than men in that position. Of course this brings up the question of why they would lose only 5% of wages for “voluntary” reasons like having a child, while chief executives do 46% worse than their male counterparts.

Then there is the more obscure data to be mined in these statistics that the U.S. Census Bureau compiles. For example, of the men in the category of “chief executive” 58% have college degrees, while only 44% of women in this position have these papers. It is interesting to note how many of both sexes have attained such a position without college degrees (probably those who started the companies in most cases), but it also brings up the question of how much of the gender gap is really an education gap.

Now I offer some speculation and commentary.

Most of us can honestly say that we just don’t see any company that openly pays 46% less or $36% less or even 5% less to a woman than a man for the exact same job. Generally the starting pay, if specified in any way, is the same. And I’m willing to bet that not only will most who make these decisions claim no bias, but will believe what they say. Perhaps I am optimistic, but I think we have reached the point where 90% or more of us would want to pay the same for the same job regardless of gender or race or anything other than performance.

But now the realistic part of me: People are acting on subconscious motives all the time, and there is a large degree of prejudice in all of us–just in different directions. This suggests that even the most consciously honest person can discriminate without being aware of the basis or the reality of that discrimination. I suspect that this is the reason for much of the gender wage gap. The research backs me up, by the way, with many studies showing biases that we are not aware of. And if a woman is promoted less often, then the men in those higher positions will go through more cycles of raises and bonuses. They will have more income for true service and experience–but service and experience that has been denied to qualified women.

We will perhaps have a gender wage gap for generations due to cultural expectations that motivate many women to take a different course than men. But beyond the “fair” reasons for the gap, there are the unfair and unconscious forces that we will have to deal with individually and as a society over time.

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