The news looks grim for women in a recently released report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Though women make up half of the workforce in the United States, their earnings still lag behind those of men, even when controlling for factors such as previous job experience and education. While the gender wage gap is closing in some parts of the US—the Northeast being the region achieving the closest to pay equality—the report concludes that, unless more serious measures are taken, women will not see parity in their earnings nationally until the year 2058.
While this is the most disturbing aspect of the report, some of its other findings aren’t quite so surprising, though they are still unfortunate. For instance, many of the states with the largest gender pay gaps exist in the Bible Belt. According to the report, women in Louisiana will not see their earnings reach those of men until the year 2106, and Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi are some of the other states with the lowest grades in the report’s rankings. The report doesn’t specifically mention cultural factors that may influence the disparate treatment in the workplace that women receive compared to their male counterparts, but one has to wonder if the fundamentalist Christian notions of women as stay-at-home mothers and angels in the households contribute to wage inequality in these states.
Culture also plays a role in the types of careers that women are encouraged to pursue. While jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are growing and tend to be higher-paying, the report finds that fewer women are represented in these job tracks and that when they are, they are still paid less than their male coworkers. These findings are unfortunate but expected, given the evidence that girls are often discouraged from pursuing math and science at a young age. Factors related to race and class may also influence women’s ability to enter STEM fields; the report notes that black women, Latino women and American Indian women are the least likely to be represented in STEM-related jobs. Because women of color are disproportionately represented among those living in poverty in the US, they are less likely to have access to the educational resources needed to build a career in these fields.
Women of color also experience a larger gap in pay when compared to their white, male counterparts, and this pay gap dramatically affects all women over the course of their lifetimes. Women who work full-time and have a college education have lost nearly $800,000 by age 59 because of gender inequality in pay. With more and more women becoming the primary breadwinners of their families, this staggering loss affects not only them individually but also their children and any elderly relatives to whom they may also be caregivers.
Fortunately for women in some states, pay equity may come sooner. The report highlights measures taken by some states that appear to reduce the gender wage gap, such as preventing companies from retaliating against employees who openly discuss their wages and instituting “comparable worth” statutes, which require compensation for work of comparable worth, regardless of employees’ gender. Women in union jobs also experience a smaller wage gap than women in non-union jobs, and the report finds that raising the minimum wage overall would greatly benefit women, who are overrepresented in low-income occupations. As humanists, our concern for equality and economic justice should motivate us to support these measures. American families simply cannot afford the gender wage gap any longer, and women should not have to wait over forty years before their earnings catch up with those of men.