Friendly Reminder: The Gender Wage Gap Is Also Due To Outright Discrimination, According To New Study

There’s a lot of reasons why the gender wage gap is such a controversial topic. For starters, there’s the problematic view that just because the 77-cent statistic isn’t a 100 percent accurate representation of things, that the gap doesn’t exist at all; there’s the justified salt at the statistic for not accurately representing the gap for women of color; there’s people who take the statistic at face-value when they shouldn’t; and, most importantly, there’s the fact that so many crucial aspects of the gender wage gap are cultural values and ingrained sexist bullshit that can’t be quantified. One example of said cultural values/ingrained sexist bullshit is the forces that both actively and subliminally steer women women away from high-paying, highly valued STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. And yet one new study by the Ohio State University has revealed a lot of the gender wage gap is blatant discrimination, too.

Its findings: Women with STEM-related Ph.D.s still earn about 31 percent less than men with STEM-related Ph.D.s.

However, the study’s researchers conceded this 31 percent gap was in part due to the wide range of different fields within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics path.

“Women are more likely to be in biology, chemistry and health, and men are more likely to be in engineering, math and computer science,” Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at the Ohio State University, told GoodCall. “That explains 20 percentage points of the gap in earnings between men and women. We knew women weren’t compensated as much as men but the magnitude was something that impressed us.”

Gender gaps in different fields and the wage gap at large can be considered from a variety of angles, one of these being the limited amount of role models in high-paying STEM fields whom women can connect to as little girls, whereas little boys tend to have no shortage of relatable role models in high-paying lines of work. This component is particularly applicable to minority women, who, as girls, tend to have fewer people they can identify with who are college graduates.

This component of the gender wage gap is more or less a “catch 22” that feeds on itself: When there are fewer female role models in highly prized fields to be inspired by, fewer girls will enter these fields, and the cycle continues. Similarly, as long as men are the norm within a certain field, as the minority gender, women will inevitably experience hostility upon entering said field. The negative experiences of one woman could further discourage other young women, everywhere, from considering the field and entering it.

Then, ultimately, there’s the devaluation of feminized lines of work as a whole. When jobs once predominantly held by men become predominantly held by women (eg. teaching, writing, nursing, and secretarial work), the pay tends to decrease. In the overarching STEM field, jobs in biology and health once predominantly held by men certainly experienced a decline in both pay and even societal value.

From the New York Times:

“A new study from researchers at Cornell University … shows, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.

Consider the discrepancies in jobs requiring similar education and responsibility, or similar skills, but divided by gender. The median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27 percent higher than human resources managers (mostly women), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. At the other end of the wage spectrum, janitors (usually men) earn 22 percent more than maids and housecleaners (usually women).

Once women start doing a job, ‘It just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill,’ said Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University. ‘Gender bias sneaks into those decisions.’”

Still, ultimately, according to Weinberg, in each individual STEM field and when all factors such as education and experience are accounted for, an average disparity of about 11 percent still exists, and this can really only be attributed to sexism.

gender wage gap stem
CREDIT: Charly Triballeau/Getty Images

In other industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gender wage gap is 70 percent in finance careers; 74 percent in manufacturing; about 76 percent for the fields of information technology, education and health, and business service; about 85 percent for agriculture; and 92 percent for construction. Within the nursing field alone, even when women outnumber men 10:1, the average salary of male nurses is still $10,000 more than the average salary of female nurses.

Further, according to one 2007 study by the Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty, across all fields, even when factors such as common factors such as education and experience are accounted for, about 40 percent of the roughly 20 percent wage gap exists. So, all things considered, the median income of American women is still a little more than 8 percent less than the median income of American men, and this roughly 8 percent can’t really be attributed to anything but sexism.

The takeaway here is that for all its complexities, the gender wage gap still, to some extent, boils down to blatant discrimination.

Teenage girl in chemistry class holding up a beaker full of blue liquid
CREDIT: Digital Light Source/Getty Images

Beyond gender gaps in lucrative fields, there’s still the overarching issue of female workers struggling to get promotions and raises. This is due to the sexist idea that women are inferior investments because they’ll just go on to push out babies, and then become MIA to dedicate their lives to child-rearing. There’s no shortage of proof that cultural expectations about women and maternity leave are literally costing women advancement in their careers. Specifically, one by Cornell University’s Economics Department revealed women were 8 percent less likely to be promoted after a law protecting women’s rights to maternity leave and flexible hours post-birth was passed in 2013.

As a whole, paid maternity leave for women but not family leave for fathers not only reinforces patriarchal gender roles by assuming women will be the sole caretakers of children while having children will hardly cause a ripple in a man’s life, but also makes women vulnerable to lose opportunities for advancement while men won’t. And might I remind you that presently, in 38 percent of households with heterosexual parents, women are the sole breadwinners.

There’s also the depressing fact that while giving men and women equal pay for equal work is the law of the land, gendered perceptions of who has more skill and experience, or is more respectable and authoritative inevitably affect who gets raises and promotions. Then there’s the equally depressing fact that, as actress Jennifer Lawrence pointed out last year, our culture stigmatizes and even punishes women who have the guts to ask for more and negotiate, where it encourages men to.

And yet, for all the factors contributing to the gender wage gap that can only be experienced, not quantified, those who have never once faced sexist oppression generally give zero fucks about what can’t be precisely reflected in numbers. Which brings me back to why this study by the Ohio State University is such a blessing: I can’t wait to see a gender wage gap denier bullshit his/her (probably his) way out of this.