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Exploring the Wage Gap Myth: What 77 percent Means for Working Women

By Victoria Kallsen
On March 25, 2014

Several commentators have drawn attention to the "wage gap myth." It alleges that 77 percent wage earnings ratio was misleading after the American Association of University Women's "Graduating to a Pay Gap" study revealed that when controlling numerous factors (same choice of major and occupation, same number of hours a weeks, both full time) there was only a pay gap of 7 percent between women and men, at the expense of the former a year after college. Alright everyone, let's pack up and go home, because sexism is over, right?
These controlled variables have been the main complaint with the suggestion that women earn 77 percent of what men earn. While women's choices are the cause of the gap for many conservatives, ultimately these aforementioned factors still exemplify the strain of institutionalized gender discrimination and reveal a more complicated underbelly that many Republican legislators choose to ignore.
Occupational segregation is the distribution of employment according to different demographics. It is estimated that this accounts for 27 percent of the wage gap issue, according to the Huffington Post. Simply put, male-dominated occupations pay better than female-dominated ones. For example, surgeons and anesthesiologists have the highest salaries in the country. Women only make up 35.5 percent of surgeons, and there are so few female anesthesiologists that it is statistically insignificant according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS).
Jobs that are more than 90 percent women include secretarial positions, nurses, dental hygienists and clerks. The average median salary for these occupations is $40,048, with a minimum of $27,130 and a maximum of $70,210. The corollary of this is jobs that are more than 90 percent men have an average median salary of $48,588, with a minimum of $23,970 and maximum of $100,920. There were 14 female-dominated fields and 40 male-dominated fields, according to the data taken from the BLS.
Male-dominated fields include computers, engineering, industry, machines and construction, so perhaps you would argue that these fields deserve more dinero. It's curious that fields that are strong, logical, intellectual, authoritative and technological are so heavily paid, while fields that value compassion, humanity, emotions, education and servitude are paid so little. It's almost as if those pesky gender roles determine our masculine occupations with higher paychecks attached. Perhaps the gentrification of occupation is what's leading men into certain fields and women into others.
Another oft cited issue with the 77 percent statistic is that it doesn't fully encompass the number of hours worked per week. According to BLS, more women work part time than men (27 percent compared to 11 percent), and women work less hours (35.6 hours/week compared to 40.6). What are all these ladies doing then? Pew Research broke down how adults between ages 18 to 64 with children under the age of 18 spent their time during the week. Mothers work 22.8 hours compared to corresponding father's 40.5 hours. However, mothers also spent more time on housework (17.4 vs 10 hours) and childcare (13.5 vs 7.3 hours), and less time on leisure (24.5 vs 27.5 hours). Considering that according to Gallup, more than nine in 10 Americans already have children or want to, compared to the 5 percent who do not want children at all, this paints an accurate picture for how many adults spend their time.
This is very obviously reflected in that pesky wage gap. While "Graduating to a Pay Gap" did reveal a 7 percent difference, an additional AAUW study, "Behind the Pay Gap" reported an increase to a 12 percent gap for full-time workers 10 years post-college. It was also noted that among mothers, 23 percent were out of the workforce and 17 percent part time workers, compared to fathers at 1 percent and 2 percent respectively. Bear in mind, that according to the BLS, "in 2010, working wives contributed 38 percent of their families' incomes." Additionally, the U.S. does not legally mandate any paid maternity leave for expectant mothers.
In short, exploring the 77 percent earnings ratio statistic serves up a healthy dose of gender roles, stereotypes and discrimination. Why do women and men pick the jobs that we do, and why are male jobs paid better? Why don't we as a society value jobs that require us to exercise compassion or educate others? I'm not suggesting that every employer looks at a woman and says I'm going to pay you less (though, that bothersome 7 percent statistic suggests it does happen). However, the wage gap is a concept that requires the public to further explore the institutional sexism in the jobs women and men choose, how they are paid and who takes the hit to their career because of child bearing.

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