The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just change the way we think about work. It spurred declines in women’s labor participation rates to levels not seen since 1987, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
In the age of #METOO, progressive social policies and movements give the impression that change is imminent, but that’s not necessarily the case. The images of Americans banding together to stand up for change are inspiring. They send an encouraging message that it’s a new era and things are different now than during the Equal Pay Act’s passage in 1963.
But are things actually changing when it comes to the gender pay gap? Despite the hashtags and calls for change, the marketplace is still all too often business as usual, especially in many male-dominated professions. The numbers indicate the pandemic exacerbated the wage gap, undoing significant changes accomplished recently. Time will tell if this change is temporary or persistent.
At Smithey Law Group LLC, we fight for workers’ rights to equal pay. You shouldn’t be paid less because you are a woman, and policies that fail to meet this standard may be illegal. Our team defends our clients’ rights and helps hold employers responsible if they don’t follow the law.
What Is the Gender Wage Gap?
The gender wage gap describes the difference in earnings between men and women. When looking at pay differences between men and women, researchers look at the wages of men and women in comparable roles in a company or sector. This presents you with an apples-to-apples comparison of earnings between the two genders.
Another enlightening indicator is the number of women in a particular sector or field, also called the labor participation rate. For example, historically, women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has been much lower than that of men. According to the AAUW, women represented 16.5% of those in engineering and architecture in 2020. Understanding the participation rate and the gender pay gap figures in context can help you get a complete picture of what’s happening on the ground.
Gender Wage Gap Statistics
The recent numbers reflect a grim work world for women and a gender pay gap that persists, showing few signs of changing soon.
The BLS first issued “comparable earning data” in 1979, when women earned an abysmal 62% of wages compared to men. In other words, for every $1 made by a man, a woman was paid 62 cents for doing the same job. Forty-one years later, in 2020, women earned 82 cents for every $1 made by men in the same role. The BLS explains that most of the upward trend occurred between 1979 and 2004, when women’s wage increases largely stagnated.
Nonetheless, while the long-term numbers lurch in the right direction, the slow growth is painful for women who must continue to work to make a living and survive economic downturns while they wait for change.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers were laid off or had to take time off work to provide caregiving services to children and the elderly. More research is forthcoming to fully unpack the impact of COVID-19 on women’s earnings and participation. But preliminary investigations indicate that women were three times more likely than men to take on additional caregiving roles during the pandemic when schools and childcare facilities shut down. Contrary to early theories circulating the internet, women took on these unpaid roles in addition to tackling their paid work, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). To accommodate both paid and unpaid work, they appeared to scale back the amount of paid work hours they provided.
What Causes the Gender Wage Gap?
The gender wage gap and its causes are complex and variable, but contributing factors include:
- Lack of representation and participation,
- Sexual harassment in the workplace,
- Cultural and societal barriers,l and
- Bias and discrimination.
Further, women are more likely to take on caregiving roles. Therefore, their inability to take extra shifts on short notice can stifle their wage growth in specific sectors. The Harvard Business Review reported that providing conventional schedules in advance can help remove this barrier. Another cause is the lack of training provided to women to negotiate salaries effectively. Some attribute this to societal and cultural norms of not preparing women for these encounters.
What Is the Current Gender Wage Gap in the United States?
Based on the most recent 2020 numbers, the current overarching gender wage gap is that women are paid 82 cents for the same work for which men receive $1. According to the BLS, the wage gap varies by field. The gap is much starker in fields such as aircraft mechanics, where women earn about 73 cents for work for which men receive a dollar. For financial managers, it’s even worse, with women receiving 67% of men’s salaries. Female pharmacists, in contrast, receive 94.6% of the wages paid to men for the same job. So, while some employment sectors are looking better for women, nearly every field—especially those in which women have been underrepresented—has a long way to go.
Smithey Law Group LLC Can Help You Stand Up for Your Right to Equal Pay
The numbers may look grim, but tenacious fighters like the legal professionals at Smithey Law Group LLC are not ones to give up. Women have the right to be paid on an equal footing with men. And employers need to be held accountable when they violate this right.
We understand the gender pay gap is pernicious, but we’re here to help enact the change. It takes vigilance and experience to stand up against practices that lock women out of the workforce and underpay them for their work. And we’re ready for the challenge.