April 4 is Equal Pay Day — a day that symbolically reminds us that men and women in the workforce aren't paid equally for the work they do. The date was chosen because it's 94 days into the new year — which is the amount of extra time women would have to work in order to make the same amount of money men did in 2016. Research has shown that the wage gap exists, but there are also plenty of arguments that say it doesn't. Here are five of the most common arguments "disproving" the gender wage gap, and how to respond to them.
The gender pay gap is often anecdotally explained by saying that women make 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. Through the years that ratio has changed slightly — sometimes going up a few cents, sometimes down, according to Pew Research. Beyond that, criticisms of the purported wage gap often manifest as suspicions about the touted ratio, which many claim doesn't factor in variables like education and other "choices" a woman makes that could influence her career, according to TIME.
Regardless of the exact ratio that's quoted, equal pay has yet to be achieved. And many economists who have researched this phenomenon have carefully controlled for other factors that could influence how much someone is paid — like work experience, location, and education level — and found that gender must play a role in determining earnings, according to the Economics Policy Institute.
Despite the research and its resulting statistics, there are still many arguments that seek to disprove the wage gap, or — if those arguments acknowledge that women are paid less than men — provide reasons why that's justified.
Argument #1: Women Aren't As Well-Educated
One common argument posits that if there is in fact a wage gap for women, it could be overcome if women just became as educated as the men they work with. This presumes that women and men working in the same field, doing the same work, do not have commensurate levels of education.
How to respond: Statistics have shown that the gender wage gap exists even when women and men have the same level of education, according to the Economics Policy Institute. This is true even when women have advanced degrees like M.D.s and Ph.Ds.
Argument #2: Women Choose Jobs In Low-Paying Fields
This argument could potentially follow up the first argument, and it basically claims that fields that have been traditionally dominated by women (teaching, for instance) have lower-paying jobs.
How to respond: Actually, it doesn't matter what field a woman goes into. Even in careers that are traditionally "female dominated," men in that field still make more money than women do. Take preschool teachers: a male preschool teacher makes, on average, $16.33 per hour. A female preschool teacher makes $14.42 per hour, according to the Economics Policy Institute's report.
In male-dominated fields, not only are women making less money but they're more likely to experience not just discrimination, but full-blown harassment, according to Institute for Women's Policy research.
Furthermore, women are often discouraged from pursuing careers in high earning fields like technology, medicine, and science. Even if they are interested and apply for those jobs, one study from Skidmore showed that when presented with identical resumes — save for the name — "John" got hired more often than "Jenninfer" in STEM fields.
Other studies have shown that when women join previously male-dominated fields, the average pay for those jobs begins to trend down, according to The New York Times. The implication being that when a woman does the job, the work isn't valued as highly as it was when men did it.
Argument #3: Women Have Family Responsibilities
One of the go-to arguments to either explain away the wage gap, or justify it, is claiming that women have "responsibilities at home" that take precedence over any career they might have. This is usually an argument directed at mothers, or women who are engaged in any child-rearing responsibilities.
How to respond: While women often are tasked with more child-rearing responsibilities than men, that doesn't mean they can't hold a job outside the home or be a reliable employee. That being said, women can and do experience discrimination in the form of inadequate or nonexistent maternity leave policies, according to a report from the American Association of University Women. While being pregnant or being a mother doesn't explicitly render a woman incapable of performing a job, that hasn't stopped women from experiencing workplace discrimination as a result.
But here's the thing: research has shown that it isn't parenthood that affects job opportunities — it's being a mother. More specifically, it seems, once again being a woman is the defining factor. Statistics show that becoming a father actually increases a man's job prospects, according to the American Sociological Review. Being a mom doesn't necessarily detract from a woman's potential career success when it comes to the work she can do, though; in fact, the skills acquired to master those "dual roles" (like multitasking) can actually make her a better employee, according to data from the Resolution Foundation, as reported by Forbes.
Argument #4: Women Don't Ask For Raises
There's always some argument floating around that attempts to explain away the wage gap by insisting that women don't negotiate salaries effectively — if at all. The theory here being that women don't make as much money as men do because they don't ask for higher salaries, or raises, or bonuses.
How to respond: Actually, women do ask for more money, according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research — but only when the possibility of wage negotiation is made explicit. Men, on the other hand, tend to negotiate their salaries regardless of whether it's "allowed" or "encouraged" by a particularly company. Furthermore, even when a woman is established in her career and asks for more money, like in the form of a raise, studies have shown that she's 25 percent less likely to get it than a male coworker, according to Fortune Magazine.
Argument #5: Men Just Work Harder Than Women
There will always be bottom line arguments that claim men are just fundamentally stronger/smarter/better than women. The "male superiority" argument often roots itself in the idea that men are traditionally the breadwinners, and that whatever work women do at home (keeping house, raising kids) doesn't constitute "real" work.
How to respond: Aside from immediately calling out how blatantly sexist that rationale is, statistics will also back up the fact that men are certainly not exclusively breadwinners. They also don't necessarily work longer or harder than women: in fact, on average, women work an extra 80 minutes every day when you factor in those "home" responsibilities, according to Mother Jones. Interestingly enough, that same report showed men are getting about an hour more of leisure time.
70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 work, according to The New York Times. The "men as breadwinners" argument also totally negates the experience of single mothers who are not only the sole breadwinner three-quarters of the time, but also the primary childcare provider.
It's also important to point out for all of these arguments that the gender wage gap is even bigger for women of color: according to the National Women's Law Center, in years when women were said to be earning just 78 cents to a man's dollar, that translated to 64 cents for black women, and 56 cents for Latinas, for every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic man.