Equal Pay Day 2019: Intersectionality and the Pay Gap

Equal Pay Day represents how much farther into the year women need to work in order to make how much men made the preceding year. In the United States, Equal Pay Day 2019 falls on April 2, illustrating how American women on average make 80 cents for every dollar earned by white men. However, focusing on this day alone as the representation of the gender wage gap ignores the fact that the size of the pay gap varies widely between different groups of women.

One glaring example is race. Whereas white non-Hispanic women earn 77 percent of what white men earn, black women earn 61 percent, Hispanic or Latina women make 53 percent, Native American women make 58 percent, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander women make 62 percent. So while Equal Pay Day 2019 is April 2 for American women on average, it actually won’t be until November 20, 2019 that we will have hit all the Equal Pay Days for women of different racial demographics.

Asian women earn on average 85 percent of what white men make, but this figure doesn’t reflect the pay disparities among women of many diverse Asian ethnic groups; for example, Laotian women earn 58 percent, and Burmese women earn 50 percent of what white non-Hispanic men earn. Further, while Indian and Chinese women are generally paid more than white men (as they are more likely to hold advanced degrees), they are still paid less compared to men of their ethnicity.

There are many explanations for the gender wage gap, including that occupations held mostly by women tend to pay less than jobs dominated by men (e.g. teaching versus software development), and women take more time off work to care for their families, which adversely affects their earnings. Some reasons, such as gender-based discrimination and unequal division of domestic labor, apply to women regardless of race, but they aren’t enough to explain why the pay gaps for many groups of women of color lag behind that of white women.

As feminists, if we care about eliminating the gender wage gap for all women, then we need to look at the issue from an intersectional perspective. This requires that we consider other ways that women are marginalized, including racism.

Some of the identity factors considered in an intersectional feminist approach, via Status of Women in Canada.

Racism and the Gender Wage Gap

Racism manifests in the workplace in many ways to negatively impact the earnings of women of color. A recent review of existing studies on the job application process found that since 1989, “whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than African Americans, and 24% more callbacks than Latinos.” The meta-study further noted that the rate of hiring discrimination against black applicants has not changed over time since 1990. Another study found that resumes for black and Asian applicants that omitted indicators about the applicant’s race led to more callbacks compared to resumes that had not been “whitened.”

Considering the observed hiring discrimination against people of color, it’s not surprising that women of color, including black, Latina, and Asian women, experience longer periods of unemployment compared to white women, affecting how much they will earn over the course of their careers. Further, having fewer callbacks means having fewer job opportunities and less leveraging power during salary negotiations.

Additionally, once women of color do secure a job, they face unique barriers in advancing their careers. For example, Asian American women face a “bamboo ceiling” in addition to the glass ceiling: Data from Silicon Valley shows that Asian American women are the least likely to rise to executive-level positions compared to all groups divided by race and gender. That same data also found that black and Hispanic women are also less likely than white women to become executives.

When addressing the gender wage gap for women of color, there are other contributing factors that may not immediately come to mind. For example, slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining, and other racist policies in the U.S. have created a stark wealth gap between white and black families that limits the finances and resources many black families can direct toward educational and career advancement, which contributes to the wage gap that black women face. It’s thus a good idea for feminists to know the concept of systemic racism in order to advocate for all women.

The gender wage gap remains a powerful example of the concrete ways in which sexism harms women. This Equal Pay Day 2019, we should remember that for many women, their Equal Pay Day happens much later because of the intersection between their gender and race. In order to close the gender wage gap for all women, it’s critical that feminist advocates of equal pay work to eliminate racist policies and attitudes so that all women of color can achieve their educational and professional goals.

Melissa Young is a writer and former copy editor from the San Francisco Bay Area who is passionate about social justice, feminism, and the Oxford comma. Her current work as a legal writer finds her drafting visa petitions that enable people to immigrate to the USA. She sustains herself by making music, drinking boba milk tea, and having existential conversations.

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