Pay Discrimination & Possible Misinterpretations

It might be commonly said that women make only 76 cents for every dollar men make, but this can easily be misinterpreted. This wage-gap ratio is a median measurement capturing earnings for all working men and women who put in at least 35 hours a week on any job. It’s a complex issue, at best, according to CNN.


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Equal work, equal training, equal education, or equal tenure are factors not considered. Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research told CNN, the wage gap, “is a good measure of inequality, not necessarily a measure of discrimination.” She continues saying, unequal doesn’t always mean unfair. “Parsing out (the reasons for the gap) is difficult to do.”

“Men and women do get paid equally for the same work for the most part,” Dr. Pat Hedberg told WCCO-TV. “Women do tend to go in and out of the workplace more than men. They leave for taking care of elderly family members or they tend to leave because they don’t find the work satisfying or meaningful. Therefore over a lifetime, their compensation is lower.”

Women also choose flexible jobs, especially when deciding to have children. Hedberg told WCCO-TV, “Flexibility does not necessarily equate to great pay.” The median annual income for men now stands at $41,000, while it is just $31,000 for women.

There may be several factors affecting this measurement. On average, women work fewer paid hours, according to CNN. More women also choose lower-paying professions than men. WCCO-TV reports that women can choose companies with generous maternity leave and negotiating salaries in order to close the discrimination gap.

Even with these factors, Hartmann told CNN that discrimination might account for between 25 and 33 percent of the wage gap. Compensation specialist Gary Thornton told CNN that he figures it accounts for 10 to 15 percent. Thornton is a principal in the HR management consulting firm Thornton & Associates.

Discrimination nevertheless exists as shown in several studies. A study by Carnegie Mellon found that female job applicants negotiating for a higher salary were less likely to be hired by male managers. Male applicants were more likely to be hired in the same study. Another study, by Cornell, found it less likely for female job applicants to get hired. It was found that if female applicants did get hired, they were paid a lower salary than other candidates of either gender. The same study found that male applicants with children would be offered higher salaries than non-fathers and other mothers, according to CNN.

Companies may do better for their female employees than males in some cases. Warren Farrell wrote in an article about a company that promoted good women employees faster than men. CNN reported these women were paid less than men in the same positions because the men had been with the company longer. Farrell is the author of “Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap -- And What Women Can Do About It.”

Thornton told CNN that a male’s request for pay equity is less likely to be treated seriously than a woman making the same request. The organization will treat her request more seriously due to fear of a lawsuit. WCCO-TV reported that men are eight times more likely to challenge their first offer, according to studies.

Hedberg told WCCO-TV, “It used to be that we thought we could have it all as women and I think we’re realizing that’s a myth for anybody, male or female, to think they can do it all.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute has completed a study detailing income inequity on both state and national levels. Jared Bernstein is Senior Economist at the Economic Policy Institute and co-authored the study.

Bernstein said in a prepared statement, “Growing income inequity harms this nation in a number of ways. When income growth is concentrated at the top of the income scale, the people at the bottom have a much harder time lifting themselves out of poverty and giving their children a decent start in life.”

“A fundamental principle of our economic system is that the benefits of economic growth will flow to those responsible for their creation,” Bernstein continued. “When how fast your income growth depends on your position in the income scale, this principle is violated. In that sense, today’s unprecedented gap between the growth of the typical family’s income and productivity is our most pressing economic problem.” Read more about the CBPP/EPI study at http://www.cbpp.org/1-26-06sfp.htm.

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