The gender wage gap is an issue that the government aimed to wipe out nearly 53 years ago when the Equal Pay Act was implemented. The act hoped to eliminate the discrimination of employees based on sex but has in many cases failed to be enforced when brought into court. The deficiency of enforcing the act is due to the lack of transparency of wages in private sector jobs and the inability to define what constitutes as equal quality of work. The most recent movement in the work towards equal pay for women was in 2009 when President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.
At the University of Denver many women have entered college unaware of the potential wage gap they will face after graduation. Hava Gordon, Director of Gender and Women’s studies said “I don’t think students are very aware, I do a lecture on the subject to present them with statistics and I think many are surprised to see that the gap has not moved in so long, I think they’re surprised because they have grown up believing that there is not such a gap anymore and that we have progressed so far and more women are getting BA degrees than men, so the university education system does not reflect the work world.”
According to the National Partnership for Women and Families there has been a total loss of $7.1 billion a year for women in Colorado alone and women are earning 70 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes. In 2013 the state of Colorado was ranked by the American Association of University Women as having the 13th lowest wage gap among the fifty states for year-round workers 16 and older. Colorado holds a higher standard than other states such as Louisiana where the earnings ratio is 65 percent.
The progression of the wage gap has come to a static point in recent years, a fact that college women seem to be unaware of, “I know that the wage gap issue has been around for a long time, but I would’ve assumed that as women’s rights have improved, so would the wage gap,” said University of Denver second year student Kelly Panasy. “It’s disheartening to learn that as I am preparing to enter a male-dominated work place when I graduate with a business degree.”
At the University of Denver the issue is so prevalent that it is occurring right under student’s noses without many of them realizing it. According to The Denver Post, Law Professor Lucy Marsh has filed a charge of discrimination against the school, claiming that Sturm College of Law violated federal law by paying her less than a man in a similar job. This suit is one that ironically occurs in the law school and shows that unequal pay has been present on campus for years.
The American Association of University Women reported statistics on the pay disparity between men and women by age. The research found that from age 20-24 the gap is only 92%, but the gap reaches its peak difference from ages 55-64 when women earn only 76% of what men do at that same age. This means that directly out of college women will not be at the worst point in their wage disparity but may come to the widest separation later in life. “The wage gap widens in the 30’s and 40’s and that’s when men and women are starting to have families,” said Gordon. “Women kind of opt out because they might be earning a little less than their partners are if they’re in a heterosexual relationship, and once they opt out they often times can’t get back in.” This opt out can often translate into a net loss of over a million dollars in a woman’s lifetime.
Certain jobs in the United States are considered “pink collar,” meaning women dominate the fields. Some of these jobs include nursing as well as K-12 teaching, “certain occupations become gendered,” said Raul Nguyen-Perez, expert in social inequality, “and in the process, especially in the case of public education, you see that the wages begin to stagnate.” The low wages of the fields dominated by women are adding to the nation-wide wage gap. Since the majority of these low-paying fields are filled with women the overall average of women’s income is brought down, resulting in an even larger gap between that and men’s wages.
Explanations for the persistence of the wage gap vary; some infer that older women in the work force are working historically low-paying jobs, bringing down the national average of all women. Other explanations infer that companies profit from giving women lower wages. According to Gordon, “so many forces have fluctuated to change the statistic, but the gap remains the same, in fact men’s wages have fallen since the 70’s overall.”
Women are not the only ones affected by gendered fields and service sector economy. “There are men who are dominating higher paid positions but many more men are working in the service sector rather than the factory jobs that we used to have, so men’s wages have fallen as well,” said Gordon.
“There is a pay disparity not just between men and women but once you introduce race you learn women of color tend to earn less than white women,” said Nguyen-Perez. The gap varies depending on level of education, race, gender, and location.
In the transition to equal pay between men, women, and all races and ethnicities, an essential piece to the solution is transparency of wages, according to Nguyen-Perez. When workers know their salary and have the ability to compare it with those doing equal work and at equal education levels employers are no longer able to get away with discriminating against certain races or genders. “Looking at historic examples is important and looking to contemporary examples around the world where we can see that these gaps are reduced, and what those societies are doing,” said Nguyen-Perez, on ways to close the wage gap.
In the case of women opting out of jobs to raise children or start a family, “solutions are to have more supports for child care, better family leave policies across professions, even in low wage service sector work, that would be ideal, because the problem is magnified at the lower end of the class scale,” said Gordon. “Paid parental leave for men as well and more flexible work hours and even job sharing.” Job sharing has been experimented with recently and it allows two or more people to share one job, giving each of them more flexible hours and the ability to juggle both a family and a career.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, as of 2015 full-time women working in the United States still make 79 percent of what men working full-time do. At the current rate of progress the pay disparity will not cease until around 2059. “Equal pay is something that would improve the lives of many people, but who is going to do it and how is that going to happen?” said Nguyen-Perez.