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Equal Pay Day and misconceptions about female wealth


Summary of story from the Washington Post, sale  April 12, 2011

This year, the US’s Equal Pay Day fell on April 12, meaning that women had to work nearly three and a half additional months into 2011 to earn what men earned in 2010 (see WVoN story).

If these extra 102 days of work are extended over 40 years – about how long people will work between schooling and retirement – women need to work more than 11 additional years to earn as much as men.

Since the establishment of Equal Pay Day 15 years ago, the gap has barely budged, with women making between 74 percent and 77 percent of what the guys earn.

To understand this injustice, Mariko Chang looks at five misconceptions about why guys get bigger paychecks.

1. Women earn less because they enter low-paying fields and become moms.

While it’s true that men tend to enter higher-paying fields than women, that difference alone does not explain the gender wage gap. Even when they work in the same occupations, men earn more.

And women’s decisions to work less outside the home in order to care for their children?

Researchers have found that even when differences in work experience, education, age, and occupation are held constant, women continue to earn less.

2. The wage gap is not an issue for today’s young women.

Young women have higher earnings than before in that women are now more likely to graduate from college, and people with college degrees generally earn more than those without.

But among full-time workers with college degrees, men still out-earn women.

3. The “he-cession” reduced the pay gap between men and women.

As the downturn continued to unfold, the service sector – which employs 20 percent of all female workers and 13 percent of male workers – was hit hard.

The Consumer Federation of America found that at every income level, women were more likely to receive subprime loans than men.

Women of color were especially disadvantaged.

In March 2011 the male unemployment rate in the USA was 9.3 percent whereas single women who maintain families had an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent.

4. Only sexist employers discriminate against women.

Pay discrimination is not necessarily the result of sexist beliefs. In fact, discrimination is often carried out by well-meaning people who are not even aware of it.

And numerous studies have shown that even with identical resumes and qualifications, men are viewed more favorably than women.

5. Closing the wage gap will create economic equality between women and men.

Regardless of how high one’s income is, without wealth people are a paycheck away from economic disaster. Perhaps not surprisingly, single women have less than half of the wealth of single men.

Even if men and women had the same incomes, women would have less wealth for two reasons.

First, women are more likely to be single parents and have to support more people on one income

Second, women are still less likely than men to work in jobs that come with fringe benefits.

Women also receive lower Social Security benefits when they retire because of their lower lifetime earnings and because any years they did not work in order to care for children or ill family members are averaged in as years with zero earnings, greatly reducing their average earnings from which retirement benefits are calculated.

Mariko Chang is the author of “Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It.”

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