How God Impedes Wage Equality

Equal pay, or lack thereof for women, is a sensitive issue. But is it also more complex than most people think it is?

For those who look at the wage gap and attribute the disproportion to some inherent lack of ambition in women, it may be time to learn a little more. I’ve heard the argument countless times that “the pay gap isn’t real—women simply don’t take higher paying jobs.” First of all, no, that doesn’t explain every instance of a wage gap. It’s simply an assumption that ignores the many realities women face, like the outdated definition of motherhood, availability and affordability of child care, or even the access to opportunity. For those who recognize that the pay gap exists, or directly experience the twenty-three cent difference per dollar, you’re probably already aware that reasons for the gap vary. Some women find it difficult to simply land an interview in a male-dominated industry. Some women are expected to sacrifice the salary they deserve for a flexible work schedule or time off to take care of a family. Others simply don’t exhibit the same level of confidence as their male counterparts, regardless of their ability to perform the same tasks. And, for women of color, the gap is even bigger. But did you know that the size of the wage gap in each state may be related to how religious it is? According to a new study out of Mississippi State University, in areas where religiosity is greater, the wage gap tends to be wider—1 percent wider for every 3 percent increase in religiosity even after controlling for other factors like marital status, education level, job type, and time in the workforce. The researchers believe that economists ought to also focus on cultural factors’ impacts on economic phenomena—like specific religious denominations and their correlation to the wage difference, and how religion and race, class, or ethnicity interact in correlation with the wage gap. As humanists may well know, traditional religious values tend to undermine a woman’s potential. Commonly, very pious families tend to subscribe to old-fashioned gender roles, designating the woman as caretaker and the man as the provider. Conventionally in many faiths, women are not to demand respect or equality, but are to remain subservient and desire little more than what is given to them, i.e. lesser education, limited opportunity, limited power. So, this wage parity issue is more complex than some would like to suggest and the argument that the wage gap is, at least to some extent, due to discrimination is becoming more and more clear.  And it isn’t simply a matter of men in charge who don’t want women to be paid as much; this institutional problem traces back to pervasive narratives about a woman’s role in society, as dictated in traditional religions, that feeds unconscious biases today. In a New York magazine piece, Stephanie Russell-Kraft suggests that not only should cultural factors like religion be examined in consideration of the wage gap, they should be studied in relation to other labor force-related decision-making and regional governments’ policy-making:

Traditional religious attitudes might also affect employer behavior, shaping managers’ decisions about whom to hire or lay off, or a family’s decision about who should be the primary breadwinner. Zooming out, the state government’s distribution of resources—like education, health care, and parental leave—can also be shaped by prevailing cultural norms that are shaped by religious attitudes. It stands to reason that policies that have been shown to promote gender parity, like pay-transparency legislation or investments in high-quality child care, might face heavier opposition in those states where religious institutions exert more influence.

Perhaps most clearly, the University of Mississippi study demonstrates that despite the intricate role faith plays in many individuals’ lives, and its intrusive and inappropriate place in politics, it remains under-examined in just how deeply it affects our economic and social institutions—and perhaps that’s why so many still consider religion innocuous. Human economic behavior is not nearly as rational as we like to believe, and a change in how we study it may be the key to explaining how we deal with our differences in lifestyle and culture.Tags: