1. Women earn less because they enter low-paying fields and become moms.
If different occupations don’t explain the pay gap, might it be caused by 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. In fact, research by Columbia University social work professor Jane Waldfogel reveals that mothers receive a 4 percent wage penalty for the first child and a 12 percent penalty for each additional child. In contrast, University of Washington economists Shelly Lundberg and Elaina Rose find that men’s wages increase 9 percent with the birth of their first child. One possible explanations sociologists offer is that, upon parenthood, men are perceived as more committed to their work and women less.
2. The wage gap is not an issue for today’s young women.
one of the reasons young women have higher earnings than before is that women are now more likely to graduate from college, and people with college degrees generally earn more than those without. Among full-time workers with college degrees, men still out-earn women. Moreover, pay doesn’t differ as much for younger workers since they are typically in entry-level and low-paid positions. As time passes, however, the pay gap between men and women widens.
3. The “he-cession” reduced the pay gap between men and women.
Men were hit first by the recession, as the construction industry received the first blow. But 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. In addition, as states made drastic cuts to their budgets, jobs in education and public services — which employ more women than men — have also faced drastic cuts.
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. All of us are affected by unconscious biases that affect how we evaluate men and women’s expertise and skills.
5. Closing the wage gap will create economic equality between women and men.
Wealth — the value of your assets minus your debts — is a much more comprehensive and accurate way to measure a person’s economic well-being than income. 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, leaving less left over to save and invest. Second, women are still less likely than men to work in jobs that come with fringe benefits — such as employer-sponsored retirement plans, subsidized health insurance and paid sick days — that either put wealth in people’s hands directly (such as matched retirement contributions) or provide things that people would otherwise have to pay for themselves.
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.
It’s not how much you make, but how much you keep that matters.