Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Once More on Pay Equity

Equal Pay Day (12 April 2016)


This is now the tenth year that the National Committee on Pay Equity has designated an "Equal Pay Day"--the day that vividly illustrates the gender  pay gap.

Put simply: the current pay gap is 21%--that is, women earn, on average, 79 cents for every $1.00 earned by men. Thus Equal Pay Day. The day "symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year." The National Committee on Pay Equity chooses a Tuesday because is is yet another way "to represent how far into the work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week."

Today, more than fifty years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy on 10 June 1963, the wage tap persists. 

I've written about pay equity issues several times since starting this blog, most recently in February, when the AAUW updated its analysis, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap. For my 20 February post, click here. You can access the full AAUW report here--the study looks at the pay gap not only by sex but by race, geographical locale, and level of education..

Several new reports on pay equity have also recently appeared, including one by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, profesors at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Many critics dismiss the pay gap by citing a variety of issues--educational levels, for instance, or job experience--to explain the wage discrepancy between men and women. But Blau and Kahn report a persistent "gender wage gap that cannot be accounted for, even after controlling for observable variables that influence workers’ pay." To read about their work, The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations," click here.

What I find even more disturbing is the pay gap as it manifests itself in jobs traditionally filled by women, so-called "caring work": childcare, eldercare, elementary-school teaching, and nursing to name the obvious. As the unpleasant economic and professional realities are phrased in one recent study, "Occupations with a greater share of females pay less than those with a lower share, controlling for education and skill." Women are paid less because the work they do is "devalued": in other words, "the proportion of females in an occupation affects pay, owing to devaluation of work done by women." To access the abstract of this this longitudinal study, Occupational Feminization and Pay: Assessing Causal Dynamics Using 1950–2000 U.S. Census Data, with links to all its sources, click here.

And then there is Paula England and Nancy Folbre's "The Cost of Caring," published in the March issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. From the abstract: 
Caring work involves providing a face-to-face service to recipients in jobs such as child care, teaching, therapy, and nursing. Such jobs offer low pay relative to their requirements for education and skill. What explains the penalty for doing caring work? Because caring labor is associated with women, cultural sexism militates against recognizing the value of the work.
So it's not just the gender pay gap, though that is bad enough. It is also the devaluation of the "caring work" that women do.

We live in a particular political moment when many individuals, cities, and states want to grant full personhood to a human fertilized egg. When many insist that women must give birth, regardless of whether their pregnancy threatens their life or their livelihood, whether they are pregnant by choice or by force. When politicians proclaim their allegiance to life and to the family above all. 

But the reality is different than the rhetoric. What is the value of all that "caring work" for children and families that women do? 

When I was still teaching, I used to ask my students what it said about a country's values when those who take care of our children, who educate our children, and who take care of our elderly are compensated so poorly? 

Aside from being the majority of those who perform childcare, elementary education, and eldercare, women are the majority of those who care for the sick and provide therapy and counseling: 91 percent of nurses are women,  and 82% of social workers are women, among other "caring" professions. A "lack of prestige" is a large factor in most analyses of why so few men choose nursing, while Jack Fischl, writing for MIC suggests the "famously low pay in social work could explain" why so few men enter the field.

So I return to my question--what does it say about a country that pays men (and men only, not women in "professional" sports) tens of millions of dollars to throw, kick, or hit balls (in other words, it pays grown men unconscionable sums of money to play children's games), but pays grown women just a minimum wage--not even a living wage--to care for children and to care for our infirm and elderly? 

So pay equity day! It's important!

Politicians, business leaders, religious leaders, and all those who mouth platitudes about "life," motherhood, and "family values": put your damn money where your mouth is!!!