Mind the wage gap

Illustration by Dan Nacu.

Ryan Dallas
Guest Columnist

We hear it nearly every day on the news: rising tuition cost, crushing student loan debt and a lukewarm job market. These issues occupy the minds of policy makers and students alike. For millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, there’s something else that should also be in the national dialogue: the gender wage disparity.

A report released by the Pew Research Center in December examined attitudes toward the gender wage disparity and reasons for the gaps continued existence. In the past several decades, the gap has seen considerable improvements with the median hourly earning of women rising from 12 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2012 compared to men whose earnings fell from 18.6 to 17.8 percent. Since the 1980s, however, women have surpassed men when it comes to educational attainment, yet the disparity persists.

Among the women surveyed, 51 percent said starting a family makes it harder for them to advance their career because they have to make commitments such as taking a significant period of time off work. Only 16 percent of the men surveyed share the same view.

In addition to that, female millennials tend to be more focused on their careers compared to men, yet women continue to be underrepresented in top corporate positions. What makes this interesting is that Richmond is home to several Fortune 500 companies where females are underrepresented in top management positions.

The researchers also note that while they may be hard to quantify, things such as gender stereotyping, sexism and networks favoring men — such as old boy networks — may contribute anywhere from 20 to 40 percent to the gender wage disparity, according to the study.

The gap isn’t only apparent in board rooms, but in academia, too.

Women who go into academia, for example, often have to delaystarting a family well into their late 30s or 40s so they can work toward receiving tenure as one study conducted by researchers in 2008 at University of California-Irvine reveals. In comparison, men in academia are not as nearly affected.

Though men might not be affected directly, they also have a role to play in chipping away at the glass ceiling. According to the report, each generation of men has become more complacent to the gender wage disparity with male millennials being the most complacent. Women across all generations support achieving gender wage parity, according to the report.

All students should become more attuned to the way the social construct of gender creates barriers in the workforce.

Outside of the workforce, it is important to also be aware of how the socialization of gender roles at home influences the wage disparity. For example, because men are seemingly not disadvantaged by wanting to start a family, they could turn down a promotion, cut back hours and work to normalize paternity leave to prevent women from losing out on career opportunities.

Though how we all might want to get there may vary from person to person, the first step in doing so is to be aware of the gender wage gap and its causes. Retreating from the issue and claiming there is nothing more to be done is a surefire way to undo the gains that advocates and policy makers have worked hard to achieve.

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