Why Can’t Women Be Paid as Much as Men?

Source: The White House Blog

A few days ago, President Barack Obama signed two executive actions meant to help close the pay gap between working men and women, noting that American women still earn only $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by a man.

An executive order seeks to stop federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss pay levels, while a presidential memorandum sets up regulations requiring contractors to submit compensation data to the Department of Labor.

A huge difference in earnings
As the above graphic shows, the lifetime effects of the gender pay gap are striking, costing women hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost compensation over their working lives.

The situation isn't getting a whole lot better with the passage of time, either. The education and employment portion of this Census Bureau infographic shows that, in 1940, women earned $0.62 for each male worker's dollar; by 2010, that gap had closed by only a measly $0.12. The current rate cited by Obama seems to indicate that there has been improvement over the past three years, at least.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

It didn't take long for commentators to chime in on this issue, pointing out that the White House itself has a pay gap between the sexes. According to the American Enterprise Institute, political staffers who are female make only $0.88 compared to every dollar earned by male staffers.

Why the discrepancy?
This response by a conservative think tank like AEI is notable in that it does not dispute that a wage gap exists – only that the Obama administration has one, as well. In 2009, the federal U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board pegged the difference at $0.93 for women staffers, versus the $1.00 made by men. If both sets of data are correct, federally employed women seem to be losing ground.

The big question is, of course: Why do women still make so much less money, on average, than men in comparable jobs? Experts have poured forth commentary on this issue, and Obama's press secretary noted that the White House numbers are skewed only because women tend to cluster in lower-level positions. Since census data shows that college graduation rates are essentially the same for women and men, it seems odd that this should be so.

As far as the national wage rate is concerned, some analysts note that women gravitate toward careers in education and health care, which are lower paying than, say, construction and other jobs generally held by men. Also in play is the fact women often have less career experience, since some take time off to raise families. This last issue only explains about 10% of the differential, however – which leaves 40% still unaccounted for.

It seems unlikely a swipe of the presidential pen will change a problem that has persisted for decades, but the conversation is opening up, and that's a start. Pay inequity between the sexes is an issue that has proven to be entrenched in our society – but, with a bright spotlight trained upon it, perhaps it won't take another 70 years to see some noticeable improvement.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 13, 2014, at 9:32 PM, sciencedave wrote:

    I think the pay gap may be variable depending on the occupation. The science fields may pay near par levels ( I am in science and can attest to that where I work). Management positions in any career area probably pay women less than par. Any numbers on specific jobs or positions?

    Also, let's not forget that single people, regardless of gender, make less much less overall than married people over their working lives. (singles do not get promoted into higher paying positions as much). I think that is a bigger issue than the gender gap. And the government supports this discrimination also.

  • Report this Comment On April 13, 2014, at 10:28 PM, jjdjdj wrote:

    The gender pay gap has been debunked to death..but lets say the White House was correct about a male why should I care? I don't see women fighting for the gender gaps in Selective Service,Prison Sentencing,Car Insurance,Health Care,Child and Divorce law etc etc...

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 11:03 AM, pondee619 wrote:

    "Obama's press secretary noted that the White House numbers are skewed only because women tend to cluster in lower-level positions."

    " some analysts note that women gravitate toward careers in education and health care, which are lower paying than, say, construction and other jobs generally held by men"

    But, then, we are no longer talking about equal pay for EQUAL WORK, are we. If women "tend to cluster in lower-level positions" and "gravitate toward careers...which are lower paying" then it stands to reason that they would be paid less.

    This article does not address the EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK claim. It states that women tend toward lesser paying jobs and then is suprised that they are paid less.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 11:33 AM, StoneyTerp12 wrote:

    As a previous poster commented, this myth has been debunked thoroughly and conclusively. If there were truly a pay gap, why would a corporation ever hire a man when it could pay women 23 percent less for the same work?

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 12:19 PM, aggie9711 wrote:

    It's sad the MF would post this as if it were gospel. Is Jay Carney ghostwriting for you guys now? The pay gap has been debunked at length by numerous studies. Most have found that men and women in the same field make substantially the same, accounting for length of service, position, seniority, education level, etc). And the remaining small difference can be attributed to numerous, non-discriminatory reasons (for example, women preferring a job with more flex time, or more non-cash benefits over salary). In fact, one study found that single women 22-32 make MORE on average than single men in the same age cohort.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 12:28 PM, miteycasey wrote:

    @aggie9711 The articles on MF have certainly become more slanted the last few months.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 1:08 PM, XXF wrote:

    @miteycasey I don't know how long you've been reading, but TMF has been slanted for as long as I can remember (registered 6 years ago, reader prior to that). Just make sure you get news from more than one source with different perspectives. Personally I read Fool, Forbes, and Fortune (owned by CNN), which give three pretty radically different views on any given issue.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 1:41 PM, BillFromNY wrote:

    I have in front of me the newsletter from my village high school. The school is rather typical for a white New York City suburb in Nassau County on the south shore of Long Island.

    The front page has a photo of the top 25 highest ranked academically accomplished students for 2014. Twenty of the 25 are women.

    Women now account for 60% of annual bachelor degrees awarded.

    Why not write an article on why men receive lower high school grades than women?

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