Gender Pay Equity Is Subject to Economic Trends

On March 31, Leslie McCall, sociology professor and fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, published an article in the New York Times that defined key factors underlying the gender pay gap. I found this article to be helpful in framing the compensation inequities women face in America. Here’s a synopsis:

Examining women’s and men’s earnings over time and at different pay levels can provide a context for understanding how the overall economy is impacting and contributing to the gap. It can also show how the reasons for the gap vary importantly by pay level.

Here are some key factors impacting private sector and non-union compensation with regard to gender pay equity.

·         Women are more likely than men to work minimum-wage jobs. This means that the gender pay gap will increase when the minimum wage decreases, and vice versa.

·         The minimum wage is currently about 30 percent less in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was at its height in 1968. Therefore, raising and indexing the minimum wage to inflation will immediately reduce the average pay gap between women and men with low earnings.

·         The gender pay gap has been reduced somewhat due to stagnation of men’s median earnings between the 1970s and the present, while women’s median earnings have increased. But recently, both women’s and men’s median full-time earnings began to stagnate, and are no higher today than they were a decade ago.

·         The highly paid have been spared: their earnings have climbed steadily since the 1980s. But, this is also where the gender pay gap is currently the widest. 

·         For the subset of women earning high pay who are likely to be married to men earning high pay, having a family is not typically a barrier to pay equity the way it is for women lower down the earnings ladder.