Equal Pay Day Highlights Women's Earnings Trailing Men's

20.03.15: Equal Pay Day

Today is nicknamed Equal Pay Day because it symbolically represents the gap in pay women see when compared to the earnings of men, as the CNN Money reports. The gap has slightly improved over the years from the "78 cents to the dollar" often quoted. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now overall make 82.1 percent of what men do. But those 4.1 cents are a small comfort.

When you look at particular jobs, especially those that require advanced education and experience, women often do even worse. In the 20 jobs with the biggest pay gaps, Fortune analyzed government data and found that some of the largest disparities are in professions that should be top earning. For example, female financial advisors made only 61.3 percent of what male advisors did. Women who are physicians or surgeons typically earn 62.2 percent of male colleagues' salaries. Financial services salespeople? For every dollar men make at wages in the middle of the industry's scale, women make 65.1 percent.That presents a more complicated problem. When top-paying jobs have larger than average wage gaps, women are even less likely to create and hold the wealth that men do, even when they're doing not just equivalent work, but the same jobs. Not only does that have immediate implications--as, according to the National Women's Law Center, almost 60 percent of poor adults are women--but longer-term ones as well. During retirement, women are twice as likely to live in poverty as men, as CNN Money reports.

There are factors that explain some of the differences. Women are expected to take on larger shares of family care, which affects the hours they have available to work, creating a cascading effect. From ages 16 to 24, women earn 92 percent of what men do. From 25 to 54, the figure drops to 81 percent, according to Fortune. However, one recent analysis by the Voter Participation Center suggests that unmarried women bear the brunt of wage gaps, so perceived family obligations may not be as large a factor as some think.

Some differences may come from other choices. For example, there is evidence that women put more of a premium on social usefulness of work than men do, as Fortune notes, and so they may not push employers as hard for pay as men.

There are also more questionable rationales, such as the American Enterprise Institute's argument that men make more in part because more of them choose to do dangerous work. The only problem is the assumption that there is a pay advantage to taking on risk. Actually, many of the most dangerous jobs in the country don't pay all that well, completely undermining the argument and suggesting that an appeal to economic theories without a review of reality is probably not the best strategic.

No matter what position people take, given that there's a presidential election next year and that Hillary Clinton is likely to drive issues of gender equality as important during the campaign, expect more attention than usual on the topic.
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