Column: The gender wage gap needs to be addressed

Women are still making only 79 cents for every dollar that a man makes. When women and men are performing the same tasks, their pay should be the same – end of story. (free pictures of money/Flickr)

It is troubling to me that this subject still warrants discussion. There are certain issues that no one should doubt are actual problems that we need to fix. The wage gap is right up there with climate change. And yet, women are still making only 79 cents for every dollar that a man makes. When women and men are performing the same tasks, their pay should be the same; end of story. While this is easy to say, this problem is very complex with a variety of factors affecting the disparity of pay between genders.

One of the most recent and prominent examples of wage discrimination came with the reboot of the popular TV series “The X-Files.” Gillian Anderson, the female co-star of the show, was offered about half as much as David Duchovny, the male co-star. With the general consensus being that they play equally important roles in the show, there is no reason that Anderson should have been offered only half as much. And this wasn’t the first time an incident like this occurred.

When the original series was shot in the '90s, Anderson was originally paid much less than Duchovny. It took about 3 years for her to close the wage gap. She faced other forms of discrimination; at the beginning of the show she was told by the studio to always stay a few feet behind Duchovny on camera. While Anderson was eventually able to stand on equal footing with her partner on camera and secure equal pay for the reboot, this a clear example of how workplace discrimination towards women is still very much an issue in society today.

It is difficult to pinpoint any one factor that causes this divide. One practice that helps enable the pay gap between genders is wage secrecy. Many companies keep wage data secret, and they often forbid employees from discussing salaries.

In 2010, nearly half of all workers nationally reported that they were either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their colleagues. Policies such as these are generally illegal, but most workers are too preoccupied with keeping their job so it is doubtful they would risk violating such taboos. For this same reason, it is also impractical to sue an employer under the Equal Pay Act, which guarantees equal pay for substantially equal work, because of legal fees and the fear of being fired. 

There are other factors, of course. According to the Center for American Progress, 22 percent of the wage gap is the result of industries that employ mostly men (such as mining, manufacturing and construction) paying more than industries that employ mostly women – service sector or clerical. Women are more likely than men to take time off to care for a child. Because they leave the workforce, in some instances for years, their earnings are often lower when they return.

Troublingly, the study found that 40 percent of the pay gap, or about 10 cents on the dollar (about $4,500 per year for those making median salary), was “unexplained.” According to researchers, there is no measurable reason for the rest of this difference in pay. It could be a wide range of factors, from overt sexism to a reluctance among women to negotiate for higher pay. 

It is important to note that this disparity is not just a byproduct of the choices that women make. So many of the causes of this pay inequality are steeped in hundreds of years of “tradition” and social stereotypes.

Even today, it has been impressed upon too many people that men should support the family and that women should be the ones that raise the family. But I believe there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what gender you are, to be the one who stays home with the kids or takes care of the house. Nurturing and providing for a family them are equally important tasks. To truly make a meaningful impact on the wage gap, it is not enough to simply pass stronger laws to protect against this discrimination, although this is an important step.

We as a society must progress past our traditional ideas of what the roles of each gender should be. Only when we reach a point where we don’t give a second though to a woman being an engineer or a man staying at home to care for his family can we make the claim that both genders are treated as equals.


Jacob Kowalski is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.