September 18 is International Equal Pay Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about unequal pay to women and pushing to close the gender pay gap. This day serves as a reminder that pay inequity is pervasive, persistent, and real in the United States as well as around the world.
While progress has been made to narrow the gap since the 1970s (when women earned only 61 cents for every dollar earned by men), the gap remains significant. Five decades later, women earn only 83 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Consider these facts as well:
Data compiled by the National Women’s Law Center indicates that mothers in the US working full time, year-round outside the home earn 70 cents for every dollar a father makes or $18,000 less annually.
Women often suffer a “wage penalty” for having children. Some of this is caused by a mother’s tendency to take time away from work or work fewer hours. (Frankly, this is something our society seems to expect only of mothers.) But studies also show that employers are more likely to hire childless women. And when they do hire a mother, they tend to offer a lower salary than they offer to other women, which contributes to the motherhood wage penalty. (Note that studies indicate men tend to receive a “wage premium,” or more money, after becoming fathers.)
Within one year of graduating college, women are paid 82% of what comparable male graduates are paid. But that drops to 69% within 10 years of graduation. Some of this may again be due to choices, such as the choice of college major and the type of careers women pursue. But several studies have documented that the gender pay gap cannot be completely attributed to different choices made by men and women. As much as 12% of the difference is simply “unexplainable.”
Here’s one simple explanation: gender discrimination.
Despite advances in today’s society, women’s work continues to be valued less than men’s work.
How else can we explain the fact that the pay gap exists across all professions? Even in traditionally female-dominated jobs such as nursing, men earn more for performing the same work. Surely we can do better for the mothers in our communities.
Here’s what we can do
- Keep advocating for pay equity and raising awareness about the pay gap.
- Implement additional strategies to mitigate the “explainable” pay gap factors as much as possible. This is particularly important for the 40% of mothers with children under the age of 18 who are the sole or primary breadwinners for their family—mothers like those who are eligible to receive our Live Your Dream Award. Live Your Dream Awards honorees struggle with affordable child care, affordable health care, and many are in low-level jobs that pay minimum wage and do not offer paid family and medical leave. As a result, the gender pay gap hits them particularly hard.
- Spread awareness of the Live Your Dream Awards, and encourage more women to apply. Despite the fact that a single mother’s earning power lags even more compared to a man’s for doing the same job, enabling more women to achieve economic empowerment can only help improve the pay gap by increasing the number of women in the workforce who can advocate and fight for the cause.