The Gender Pay Gap

In the last two hundred years or so, much has been achieved in terms of establishing equality between men and women. Women have now more access to education and employment, women are no longer constrained by stifling gender roles, and women now have more protection from abuse and exploitation. But while great strides have certainly been made in the past decades, one fundamental issue that women still endure is the gender pay gap. The existence and persistence of the gender pay gap as a social issue means that much remains to be done in order to achieve true equality between men and women.

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The Gender Pay Gap: What is it?

What is the gender pay gap? The gender pay gap can be defined as the gap between the earnings of men and women. More specifically, this pertains to the gap between the compensation received by men and women employed for the same position and providing the same amount of work. While some deny the existence of a pay gap, data consistently shows that men tend to earn more than women. According to the latest surveys, women’s median earnings are equal to only 80% of men’s median earnings. In other words, women make only 80 cents for every 1 dollar men make.

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The gender pay gap, however, is not uniform. Gender pay gap statistics also show that the gap is bigger for women from racial and ethnic minorities. For instance, white women make around 77% of their white male cohorts’ salaries. On the other hand, Hispanic or Latina women make only half or 53% of their white male counterparts’ wages. Meanwhile, African Americans and American Indian or Alaska Natives are paid only 61% and 58% of their white male cohorts’ salaries, respectively. Asian women have the smallest pay gap, as their earnings represent 85% of their male counterparts’ earnings.

The gender pay gap can also be observed not just through direct earnings but also through official policies. Research shows that certain policies result in women receiving lower compensation compared to men. For instance, the United States is the only developed country in the world which does not mandate paid maternity leave for women. Whereas some countries, especially Europe, can grant as many as 20 to 50 weeks of paid maternity leave, women in the United States are often forced to work right after giving birth in order to receive compensation. To take time off, women often resort to using vacation, sick, and family medical leaves or shoulder the cost of missing work themselves. When women do decide to take some unpaid time off to take care of their children, especially in cases when medical attention is required, they inevitably receive much lower salaries than their male counterparts.

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Why it matters

Closing the gender pay gap should be the priority of society for a number of reasons. Firstly, closing the gender pay gap is the right thing to do. Equality between men and women will never be achieved if society keeps assigning unequal value to the labor rendered by men and women. Value should be determined by the quantity and quality of work, not by the gender of the employee. Paying women lower than their male counterparts despite performing at the same level is basically a form of discrimination based on sex and gender.

Secondly, closing the gap is actually advantageous for the economy. For one, closing the gap means that more women will earn more than their current wages. Increase wages, in turn, means that more people will have money to spend. Increased spending ultimately has a positive effect on economic growth. For another, closing the gap will help in addressing poverty. Many families struggle with poverty due to low wages. This is especially true for single mothers. Data shows that single mothers have the lowest income among working women. Closing the gender pay gap is a form of addressing poverty, considering that 1 out of every 5 children live with a single mother.

Finally, closing the gap benefits businesses. Paying employees based on merit rather than sex or gender has a positive impact on workforce morale. Moreover, granting fair wages to workers helps businesses avoid the risk of being charged with discriminatory practices. 

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How to end the gender pay gap

While the gender pay gap is a widespread problem, it can be ended through various means. So how to end gender pay gap? One way to close the gap is by passing laws and legislation that will encourage employers to pay men and women equally as well as promote policies that encourage inclusivity. Many individuals and groups have already tried to push for legal changes, though results have been limited.

The reluctance of lawmakers to mandate equal pay leads to the second way to close the gap: changing cultural perspectives regarding the issue. To understand this, it is important to answer this question first: Why does the gender pay gap exist? The gender pay gap exists due to a number of factors, one of which is the prevailing misconceptions regarding the role of women and mothers. Traditionally, women were housewives who usually relied on their working husbands for their financial needs. The prevalence of such gender roles in the past still fuel misconceptions such as the belief that married women are supported by their husbands and therefore require lower salaries, the belief that men perform better than women, and the belief that hiring women carries the risk of more absences due to maternal duties. To enable drastic changes, it is essential to target the roots of the issue by encouraging change in cultural views that influence the issue—that is, the way people perceive the role of women in society.

How to contributes

Though the gender pay gap is a national issue, it does not mean that individuals are powerless to end the problem. Expanding personal knowledge on the issue, promoting others’ awareness, voicing out one’s opinion, and engaging in the political process are all viable means of closing the gap. For instance, simply writing about the issue can have a positive effect. 

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Society has come a long way since women had decided enough was enough. Still, society has a long way to go in term of breaking down insufferable and illogical gender roles that essentially kept women on the fringes of society for the most part of history. At the forefront of this century's revolution for equality and human rights, women are at the helm. 

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