When is a woman breaking the pay ceiling not a good thing? When it leads to the generalized devaluing of that whole job sector; lowering the wages in it for men as well as women. Which is, apparently, what has happened in the U.S. as more traditionally “male” jobs open up to women as well, and women move into and up those ranks. Using data from 1950 to 2000, researchers at University of Pennsylvania found that in each decade, if 10% or more of a work force in a particular occupation is women, the wages decrease overall up to 5%. The biggest disparity found was in parks and recreation fields which became over 50% female during that period and for which wages dropped 57%.
So, if women entering a man’s field causes wages to drop, what happens when men “take over” occupations previously considered women’s work, like nursing or computer programming? Wages go up. The job is now “worth” more.
“Gender Pay Inequality: Consequences for Women, Families and the Economy” is the name of a report recently issued by Congress outlining the most recent data on this topic. Here are some of the findings.
- More women were in the work force at the end of the time period, and earning larger proportions of the family income, up to 40%, but doing so with lower paying, and often part-time jobs.
- Women still face a wage disparity gap ranging from 55 cents for Latinas to 75 cents for white women compared to a man’s dollar, which affects not only their and their families’ lives during their working years, but their retirement benefits as well, which are based on earnings. They have less income to put into savings accounts or pension contributions. Women are more than twice as likely to live in poverty in their old age as are men.
There are some remedies being proposed, but as yet not enacted into statutes. The first is the federal Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199), which would revise some of the definitions of the Fair Pay Act to eliminate gender bias, and allow private enforcement of sex discrimination allegations.
The Act now allows a “bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)” to segregate jobs for men only, or women only. These BFOQ were intended to protect the privacy of the consumer of those occupations, but it has been used to perpetuate a gender pay gap. The bill would change the way a BFOQ is determined to reflect education and experience, not a person’s gender. S.2199 would also allow civil actions by those claiming discrimination and class action suits, to enforce violations, instead of having to rely on the EEOC to investigate.
The Act would also require using the idea of comparable worth to set salaries. California passed a similar bill last year, for private employers; this would make it a federal standard for all government employees and private contractors with the government. The jobs would be analyzed by skill and education required, not whether a “man is better suited”, for instance. Supporters say the bill would take away that phenomenon of wages going up when a job becomes a man’s field, and down, when women enter a job sector.
Another remedy is California’s AB 1676, which would prohibit a prospective employer from inquiring as to the applicant’s prior salaries, seen as discriminatory because that will keep women’s salaries from ever reaching any gender parity. Earlier laws have outlawed asking a prospective woman employee what her marital status is, or whether she has children, or will become pregnant, and supporters of the bill suggest this is just one more discriminatory bias that must be removed to equal the work force playing field.
This disparity in women’s salaries is not limited to the wage occupations. Consider professional sports teams. Women’s soccer, which won the world cup last year and had higher TV ratings and revenue for the stations than the men’s teams, still gets paid only one quarter of the men’s salaries. Some of them have filed a complaint with the EEOC to investigate this discriminatory practice. Or, consider the salaries paid to women actresses – including those who win Academy wards for outstanding performances – as pointed out last spring by Patricia Arquette.
These bills are a first step in leveling the wage playing field; it is up to us to build the culture in the community that requires more economic fairness all around. Let’s start with women’s salaries!