Today, April 12, is Equal Pay Day. As more households rely on women as the partial or primary breadwinner, what will happen when more men start to choose a family-friendly career path?
Today, April 12, is Equal Pay Day, a day that symbolizes how much longer women would need to work to earn what men earn (two extra days per week and three extra months per year). According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, women earn, on average, just 78.2 percent of what men earn. But despite the government data, there is still much confusion around the wage gap.
You may have heard the $0.78 figure is inaccurate. That’s somewhat true. For women of color, the gap is even greater, with African American women earning approximately 67.5 percent of what men earn and Latina women earning just 57.7 percent. You may have heard the wage gap has closed and that women are actually out-earning men. Technically, it has narrowed—from 77.7 percent. That’s a whopping half a cent. And there is indeed a segment of the female population out-earning men. In some U.S. cities, single, childless women under the age of 30 earn more than men by up to 17 percent. But when those women have children, the wage gap gets complicated.
Most likely you’ve heard the wage gap has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with choice. Those who opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill designed to strengthen the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and that was shot down by the Senate this past November, say women make personal choices that lead to lower pay. They tell you that women choose to take time off to have families and if they return, that they choose the mommy track at work. And then they ask you, if women aren’t working as long and hard as men, why should they get paid the same amount?
But while it may look like women are opting out of the rat race so they can take Junior to Gymboree, the reality is what might look like a choice is actually a compromise. American businesses have made it close to impossible for two working parents to balance, or even afford, work due to inadequate family-leave policies, cost-prohibitive child care, and too few sick days. And in every family, something’s got to give. Many women leave the workforce or reduce their hours because their husbands earn more than they do and it’s the only way they can manage the household.
Which leads us to the other thing you may have heard about the gender wage gap. Perhaps you’ve heard you should care about fair pay for the sake of your daughters, your nieces, your grandchildren. Because nothing motivates a man to support women like making the world fair for his darling daughter, right? That’s sweet, but you should care about fair pay because it affects you in two ways. First, two-thirds of all U.S. households rely on a woman’s salary at least partially, and in one fifth of all marriages wives out-earn their husbands. When those female breadwinners bring home 23 percent less than their fair share of pay, the entire family suffers. Expenses like health care, grocery bills, and mortgage payments don’t discriminate based on gender.
And second, as more households rely on women as the partial or primary breadwinner, what will happen when more men start to choose a family-friendly career path? Women know from experience that fighting gender discrimination of any kind in the workplace is potentially career-ending, risky business. But if men and women work together to change the policies that pit family against work, we can start to affect positive change. Both men and women have a vested interest in closing the gender-based wage gap.
This week the Paycheck Fairness Act is expected to be reintroduced in Congress by Representative Rosa DeLauro and in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulsi. Support it—for your family and for you.
Liz O’Donnell is the founder of Hello Ladies, named one of the top 100 websites for women by Forbes. Her byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, The Tampa Tribune, The Glass Hammer and Skirt!.