by Connor Recck ’23
As we take a moment to celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s also remember that women still do not earn equal wages for equal work. The gender wage gap in the United States has remained roughly the same since the start of the century. Pew Research Center recently published its analysis on the median hourly earnings for full- and part-time workers; in 2022, all women in the workforce over the age of 16 made 82% of the median income earned by men. Two decades earlier, in 2002, this figure stood at 80%. The relative stagnation in the gap is concerning. According to an analysis from the World Economic Forum in 2022, the current rate of progress will see the gender wage close worldwide in 135.6 years.
How can that be possible? At its current trajectory, gender differences in median earnings will be closed in 2158. Generations of women across the world will continue to suffer the financial consequences of this trend. Wage differentials compound upon the fact that the day-to-day expenses women incur are generally higher than men’s. This can include products like shampoo, razors, children’s toys, and deodorant, just to name a few. Similar products that serve the same purpose for both men and women will be gendered in order to solicit a higher price on goods and services marketed “for women.” It’s also important to remember that women incur costs on hygiene products and other goods that men do not buy. Feminine hygiene products are classified as “luxury goods,” which makes them more expensive given the added taxes that are collected on these types of items.
Women earn less than men but often face expenses that men do not experience. This reality produces additional reductions in the income available to women in the economy. Because women consistently earn lower wages across their lifetime, women will have less in Social Security and pensions. According to a 2021 evaluation from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women’s overall retirement income is only 70% of the amount collected by men. Lower earnings for women can be attributed to lower opportunities for investments and other financial activities that generate wealth.
When we look at the gender wealth gap, it is actually wider than the wage gap. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported that families with women as the head of household hold 55 cents in median wealth for every dollar of wealth held by families with men as the head of household. There are even deeper concerns when we look at racial differences. The St. Louis Fed documents that “families headed by Black and Hispanic women owned just 5 and 10 cents, respectively, for every dollar of median wealth held by families headed by white men.” Women, especially women of color, have been unable to accrue wealth to the same extent as men, and this poses generational concerns for women in the coming decades.
Our economy continues to value men more than women. The gender wage gap is an outcome of this valuation. What can we do to ensure it does not take until 2158 for the gender wage gap to be eliminated? A multi-pronged approach will be required to properly address this issue. We must continue to pinpoint gender and racial discrimination that takes shape in all sectors of the economy. We must also address occupational segregation that funnels too many women away from higher-paying occupations. The government may institute mandates that require companies to emphasize diversity in their hiring initiatives. Activists should continue to push legislators in Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide support to women who have experienced occupational discrimination along with strengthening existing anti-discrimination laws. As more women assume leadership roles, we may find they are able to influence the incomes of women across the job ladder. Hopefully one day our economy will value all its workers equally, but for now, we must continue to demand progress on this issue.