The Pay Gap

In her show Monday night, Rachel Maddow expressed her complete surprise when learning that leading Republicans really don’t believe a pay gap between men and women exists. She says she had thought the disagreement was on how to solve the pay gap, not on whether it existed.

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I have to say, I wasn’t surprised, because this is what I grew up being taught. Of course, I also grew up being taught that white males are the most discriminated against group in the country, but that’s another story.

I would say two things on the whole pay gap thing. First, it is true that part of the pay gap stems from the fact that women are more likely to work fewer hours, to take time off in the middle of their careers to have kids, etc. But not all of it stems from that. Not all of it can be explained away by structural factors like this. Second, even if a significant part of the pay gap stems from women making different economic and career choices, we need to ask why women are making those choices. When the pay gap is not based on pure discrimination (and some of it is), it is usually based on structural factors. We need to address those factors as well as blatant discrimination.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    I am a white male and I can attest to the fact that I am the most discriminated against faction of society. It has nothing to do with the fact that I am an agnostic, wear bottle-cap glasses, don’t comb my hair, love my wife like there is no tomorrow, am vocal in many circles about life, and don’t fit into any political party. It’s simply a fact.

    All crappy humor aside, I hope this doesn’t bite my dear wife in the arse when she finally enters the workforce. If it does, I just might have to fix it myself.

  • Comrade Svilova

    I was surprised that Rachel Maddow was surprised by pay gap deniers, but definitely appreciated her coverage of the existence of the pay gap even in situations where factors like those you cited above don’t apply. When a woman and man have the same titles, same hours, same educational background and he is still paid more, it’s obvious that sexism is at work, whether conscious or unconscious.

  • Godlesspanther

    I happen to be a middle-age, middle-class, straight, white, married, monogamous, well-educated, employed, tax-paying male. It would be insane for me to deny the fact that I am among the most privileged members of the society that I live in. Being an atheist, long-haired,bearded, and far from wealthy doesn’t fit, but the rest does.

    I find the “white males are discriminated against” song and dance to be utterly repulsive. I would rather be a member of a fair and just society than a privileged member of an unjust society — but reality is what it is. For me to pretend that I am persecuted does nothing to help those who really are.

    The white-male persecution myth is obscenely selfish and greedy. Notice how those people who make that claim never support the rights ofpeople who are not within their own demographic. Selfish and greedy.

  • Hibernia86

    I was thinking about this issue recently. It may be that companies don’t want to pay women as much because they think women are going to take off to have children, forcing the company to give maternity leave and deal with other regulations. Of course, I think companies should be banned from this discrimination, but at least it gives a better discription of exactly what is going on.

    • MadGastronomer

      That’s certainly one of the excuses they use. But the real reason is sexism. It is sexist to assume that women are going to have children, and that men aren’t going to take paternity leave, and that childrearing is something women do.

      But please don’t make their excuses for them. That excuse is part of the problem, but phrasing it as if that’s a reason separate from sexism, even if you qualify that by saying it should still be banned, isn’t actually helpful. It’s not a novel suggestion, but a well-known facet of the pay gap. It’s not a better description of what’s going on, either, since it obscures both the problems with that excuse and the other excuses that are used.

      You might want to do some more reading about the topic before you suggest better ways of talking about it.

    • Rosa

      Companies want to pay *everyone* less. Those with more power resist that the best, those with less are stuck with lower wages. That’s why all these gaps always go the way you expect – as a group, men make more than women, whites make more than Blacks, people who grew up with richer parents have higher income (as well as higher wealth), etc.

  • machintelligence

    Republicans are great at denying the facts when said facts make them uncomfortable or might cost them money. Look at global warming, for example. Authoritarian personalities are also good at holding contradictory views simultaneously. You might want to check Bob Altemeyer’s work “The Authoritarians”. It is free to download and a really informative book.

    • Conuly

      Authoritarian personalities are also good at holding contradictory views simultaneously.

      Democrats unbellyfeel blackwhite doublethink.

      • plch

        have you read the book?

  • Sierra

    I’m still reeling a little bit over the rudeness of that dude interrupting her. Who the hell does that?

    • Karen

      An asshole. Sorry about the frank language, Libby Anne, but it needs to be said.

      • machintelligence

        That was my response as well, but I bit my tongue since Libby Anne prefers more civilized discourse than Free Thought Blogs.:-)

  • UnderINK

    It has NOTHING to do with career choices. Jesus. How annoying. Did you not watch the video you posted?

    The statistic comes from the SAME jobs, the same positions between men and women. They looked at EVERY job, not just ones men and women tend to pick. A male nurse makes more than a female nurse. That has nothing to do with the man or woman’s choice to be a nurse. A CEO that’s male makes more than a CEO that’s female. Are you saying she made an incorrect choice? It’s flat out discrimination.

    It doesn’t matter what a woman is ‘more likely’ to do. If she takes time off of work, it should be treated the EXACT SAME as if a man takes off of work for an injury or something like that. Some women don’t take off at all! The lack of equal pay has nothing to do with the amount of time or time taken off.

    They said that working the same amount of hours in the same job in the same position – males STILL get paid more than women. It doesn’t matter how you slice it. In every single case except in butlering, men make noticeably more than women.

    • Conuly

      Butlering? Wait, what? There’s a job I would’ve pegged for “huge wage gap” if I ever thought about it! (I didn’t watch the video.)

    • Hibernia86

      UnderINK, what you say is true, but the video at the end makes the point that jobs that are majority women pay less on average than jobs that are majority men. That, I think, is what Libby was talking about.

      • Anat

        I don’t have the data, but I am told it works both ways, which is what shows the underlying sexism: Professions where the participation of women increases tend to lose prestige and pay levels, and the opposite applies to professions where the participation of men increases. In Israel the former applied to teaching – as the profession became more women-dominated both status and pay levels of teachers dropped. Teaching was no longer viewed as a sacred life-mission and serious career but instead became viewed as ‘an easy job with short hours and many vacations for women passing the time between kids, women who don’t need to be paid highly because they are married anyway and have their husbands’ incomes to rely on’. We may be seeing the reverse trend in the US with nursing, now as more men enter this career pay is said to be rising, I read that there is a trend to increase levels of professional training (I understand that in a few years a doctoral degree will be required, at least in Washington) – though the men are the ones who benefit from the change more because they get promoted faster.

    • Libby Anne

      If you watch the whole video through, you will find that some of the pay gap can be attributed to choices, aka structural factors, but that even when you adjust for that some of the pay gap remains unexplained – aka the result of blatant sexism. I think if we only insist that it’s all simply blatant sexism, we allow people like the asshole on the show to blow us off, because that’s not what the research says. Instead I think we need to admit that yes, some of it is the result of choices women find themselves making, but that this is something that should be addressed and not taken as a matter of course, but that some of it IS from blatant sexism and is not explained by choices. I think going about it two ways puts our position on firmer footing, and also broadens the question – we need to be asking why women have to make harder choices than men do, take a bigger hit when they have kids than men do, etc, and how to fix that problem.

  • Adele

    Some of the pay gap is the result of structural factors and some is probably due to “pure” discrimination, i.e. “a woman’s work is valued less than a man’s, either consciously or unconsciously”, but I believe at least part of the problem stems from a more subtle and complicated form of discrimination that I don’t think has been mentioned yet. In order to get compensated at a level that is truly fair an employee has to bargain when first accepting a position and then ask or even demand raises at regular intervals prepared with arguments for why a raise is deserved. The majority of employers will pay their employees the lowest amount they can get away with. From childhood most males are taught to stand up for themselves and to argue vocally for their opinions, whereas our culture in the US still tends to encourage females to be gracious and polite. This means women are less likely than men to bargain and demand fair compensation in the first place, and those who do are more likely than men to be viewed as greedy bitches rather than confident assertive employees who know their own value, even if the woman presents her case in the exact same way and uses the same arguments as a man.

    • Antigone10

      Actually, it’s a can’t-win-for-losing proposition.

      A man who demands raises may or may not get them, but probably will. A woman who demands pay raises will more likely be demoted, passed over for promotion, or fired for being “not a team player” and “bitchy”. In college, I read a study that had people read the exact same raise requests, one with a male name, and one with a female name. The one with the male name always had positive descriptors attached to it (forthright, go-getting) the female one almost always had negative descriptions.

      Being polite won’t get you the raises of promotions, but you also won’t be fired.

    • Sheena

      I was going to mention this! I think a huge part of the pay gap is related to socialization. Women and girls are STILL being told that it’s better to be “nice” than successful, and that affects how they approach salary negotiations (and job interviews in general). I’ve been turned down for jobs because I didn’t “seem like a team player” — because I had specific desires and expressed them in the interview (like having a set day of the week “off” in a retail environment, because I was also looking for full-time jobs and wanted to have a day for interviews). I’m certain that if I’d made that request as a man, the manager wouldn’t have lectured me during the interview about how I’d be “part of a team, and a team works together”. I probably would have gotten what I asked for.

      • MadGastronomer

        We’re socialized to be nice — and both men and women are socialized that women aren’t worth whatever they’re asking for, so women who do “act like men” and make requests and demands, as you obviously have experience with, get turned down and get penalized for asking or demanding it in the first place. And then we get told that if we don’t get higher salaries or promotions or whatever, it’s our fault for not going after them hard enough. Can’t win for losing.

  • blotzphoto

    The really sad thing bout the wage gap is that it turns out to be really bad for business. My wife works for a very good (fortune 500) company who I will leave anonymous for the nonce. They have specific policies in place to counteract the wage gap because they realize that it discourages qualified candidates from contributing to their profitability. They have great family leave policies because they have found that happy family lives make their employees happier and thus more productive. We couldn’t do the stay at home dad thing with any comparable company.

  • H

    At one of the other blogs I read, the author (a statistician and economist) wrote an in-depth analysis of the gender wage gap. It explains what is and isn’t accounted for. It’s a few years old at this point (written since 2000), but things haven’t changed all that much in the last decade.

  • TiG

    Watching that interview again and her treatment by that asshole really got my blood stirring again. I know that the GOP wants to lie about discrimination, but that they’d just outright lie like that about facts just makes me twitch. Thank you for sharing it again – I have been waiting for Dr. Maddow to blow that guy out of the water, and boy did she ever.

  • Scotlyn

    The only valid question, and it applies to every aspect of the problem as outlined above – structure, bargaining, career choice, parenting – is why do we, as a society, not want to pay women more to do what women choose to do? whatever they choose? including full-time parenting or caring if that is what they choose?

    When we decide that what women choose to do is as valuable to us all as what men choose to do, we’ll really be in a position to claim achievement of freedom of choice.

    PS I am a proponent of the Basic Income concept – which helps me think about these things in the context of “what could be.”

  • Ben

    The big thing I think is that some people think that “rights” are a zero sum game. You see it in everything. Gay people want to get married? Well that is an attack on marriage, because of the implicit view that if one class of people gains rights, another must lose them. So if we accept that there is a pay gap between men and women, if women gain higher wages to become equal to men, the men have lost something that was theirs. If black people are given the right to vote, it somehow “diminishes” the voting rights of white people. It is almost as if they view rights as a resource pool from which the various groups of humanity draw, and the more one group has the less others can.