The gender wage gap is an issue that remains debated in academic circles and controversial in the public sphere. But what exactly are the facts about the gender wage gap?
What is the Gender Wage Gap?
The wage gap is the variation in earnings between men and women, both in the United States and the world at large. The gap is variable in both cause and extent, depending on the nation, but exists even in those with protections for those in the workforce.
What Causes the Gender Wage Gap?
Throughout history, overt discrimination has been the predominant cause of differences in pay between men and women in the workforce. For countries like the United States, as a result of anti-discrimination laws, this is no longer the case, but the pay gap still persists.
This is due to a variety of factors, but the most important are cultural and gender norms that affect the behavior of individuals living within society. One such behavior affected by these norms is the difference in assertiveness between the genders. For men, assertiveness is often seen as a positive trait that garners respect from others, but for women, the opposite can be true.
This cultural attitude, as research shows, often leads to women not asking for raises when their male counterparts would otherwise feel perfectly comfortable doing so. Another factor is the different roles men and women are expected to inhabit.
Breadwinners and Caregivers
Throughout modern history, men have been expected to perform outside labor to help support a family financially, while women have been expected to perform domestic labor, like cooking, cleaning, and raising children. As technology advanced, this began to change.
New processes provided inexpensive goods, freeing up time women had previously spent on sewing or baking, and the development of public schools provided even more that had been spent, rearing children. With this newfound time, women began to enter the labor force, finding work in garment factories and the few other manual labor opportunities available to them at the time. Introduction into the workforce was slow at first but steadily rose over the decades.
The 40s saw a marked increase in labor force participation rates among women following labor shortages due to the ongoing world war, and while the end of the war saw a dip, the trend continued to increase. Throughout the 70s and 80s, many of the gender norms associated with the labor force came under increased scrutiny, and employment soon became an expectation for most women. This led to a marked increase in educational attainment, as they aimed towards higher aspirations and closing the pay gap.
The Gap in Modern Society
For today’s society, the pay gap can largely be attributed to differences in both the type of work each gender goes into and the length of the career. Women, for example, make up only about 28% of those in STEM fields. Some of this can be attributed to the culture surrounding these fields. Initially, when personal computers and video games first came onto the market, they were advertised in a non-gendered way, and consumer demographics between the two genders were almost at parity.
Quickly, however, advertisers began campaigns that focused more heavily on more male-associated aspects of both computing and gaming. This led to a drop in adoption among the female demographic, which held steady for decades. Conversely, a phenomenon known as, “The Scully Effect“, had a high degree of correlation between young female viewers of the X-Files, and an interest in the STEM fields.
The Real Conversation
When it comes to complex societal issues such as these, the question isn’t whether or not it exists, but rather, why it exists. Until we eliminate societal pressures, there are still many facts about the gender wage gap we just won’t understand.