Tuesday, April 4 is Equal Pay Day, a symbolic holiday designed to represent the day in which the average American woman would earn the same amount in her job as a man did in the year prior, given that women still only earn about 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gender wage gap is something that exists worldwide, and it has been studied fairly extensively, yet many people (both men and women) still seem certain that it's an overblown feminist myth. One common argument? That women would earn more if they only worked harder. But studies show that women are working just as hard as men — they just aren't getting paid for it.
In arguing against the existence of a wage gap, many people point to women being more likely to take time off from their careers to raise children as proof that they're less career-focused. But according to CBS News, studies have shown that, even when those factors are taken into account (along with other details like differences in job titles or employers), women still earn more than 5 percent less than men do in the same job. Unfortunately, far too many men seem to voluntary close themselves off to this reality — likely because they still inexplicably find the idea of female equality to be threatening — but what's worse is that many women also appear to pride themselves on calling out gender inequality as a made-up, completely non-existent issue.
That's not just an abstract observation based on snarky #EqualPayDay tweets though: according to a 2014 Pew Research study, 37 percent of American men and 23 percent of American women said they didn't think changes needed to be made to achieve greater gender equality in the workplace (sigh).
In an article for USA Today Tuesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg addressed some of the misleading arguments surrounding the gender pay gap, and wrote that it's not at all true that women need work harder or be more ambitious to compete with men. Women are hard working, and they are ambitious — and they are also highly educated. What really stands in women's way, according to Sandberg, are "structural barriers" that need to be removed, like the fact that female-dominated fields tend to pay less overall than ones dominated by men, according to the Economic Policy Institute, even when the level of skill and qualification is comparable.
Let's assume though, that somehow, those male-dominated fields are still somehow more challenging or skilled than female-dominated fields. All women would have to do to earn more is get a job in a male-dominated field, right? Nope. According to The New York Times, Harvard Economist Claudia Goldin found that even within occupations, the pay gap persists. Female lawyers, for example, earn about 82 percent of what male lawyers do, and a 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine study found that, even though women now represent half of all medical school graduates, male doctors earn about $20,000 more than women do on average, according to TIME. What's more though is that that figure was specifically the gap that remained after controlling for other factors like age, specialty, and years of experience. In general, women physicians actually make closer to $50,000 less than male doctors do.
Could it be though that male doctors are just better at their jobs? Uh, nope, sorry, wrong again. A 2016 study by the Harvard School of Public Health actually found that female doctors had better outcomes than male doctors — so much so, in fact, that researchers estimated that "approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year," according to NBC News. In other words, even when women are literally doing their jobs better than men are, they're still getting paid less for no good reason.
While it might be nice to think that the wages of female doctors will increase in time given that there are more women doctors in existence and given that they have more than proven themselves to be capable, research suggests that the opposite might actually occur. According to The New York Times, when traditionally male-dominated occupations begin to attract more women, overall wages actually fall. Wages for designers fell about 34 percent, for example, when women entered the field in large numbers, and wages for biologists fell about 18 percent. Fluke? Probably not: according to CBS News, when men enter female-dominated fields like nursing or teaching, they actually earn more than women do for doing the same job.
That can't possibly be the case for millennials though, right? Many young adult women have tried to argue that they don't need feminism, because obviously things are equal now. But that doesn't really seem to be the case either, according to Glamour. In an eye-opening piece, the magazine recently compared the real-life salaries of 12 men and women — six male-female pairs with similar job titles and levels of experience — to see how they stacked up. When the pairs were assessed by a headhunter to determine what they were reasonably worth based upon factors like education and experience, it turned out that all but one of the women were found to be earning less than expected. And in some instances, the women earned less despite having more experience, more education, or a more impressive title than their male counterparts, leaving the headhunter that Glamour interviewed totally perplexed.
The reasons behind the gender pay gap aren't always straightforward, but it's likely that the imbalance begins right out of the gate — and then pretty much stays there for the remainder of women's careers. As the Institute for Women's Policy Research Program Director Ariane Hegewisch explained to Glamour,
The best knowledge we have now is that for a man and a woman who graduate from the same class of university and go into the same field, the wage gap right out the door for her is 7 percent. And that disadvantage is likely to grow every time she changes jobs because typically her new salary is based on her last one.
That might not seem like a big deal, especially if your salary is still high. But it adds up: according to CBS News, the gender wage gap means women may lose out on more than $530,000 in earnings compared to men, which can have real ramifications down the road when it comes to issues like pension and retirement. Specifically, that means women must save $1.25 for every $1 a man saves for retirement if they are to maintain their standard of living. And in case it wasn't clear, that's for no good reason whatseover.
Griping about the gender pay gap might not seem like much fun, and obviously it would be much nicer if it were a conversation that didn't need to occur. But arguing on Twitter that feminism is silly doesn't actually make it true. So long as women are continuing to be paid less than men for the same amount of work — and so long as there's evidence that proves this happens when women are working just as hard and in comparable fields as men — the debate needs to continue until the gender pay gap really does become a myth.