Why Is the Wage Gap Growing Wider?


It’s 2013—haven’t we closed the so-called wage gap between men and women yet? Apparently not, according to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

Worse, the gap seems to have widened. The ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings dropped to 80.9% in 2012 from 82.2% in 2011.

The analysis, released on the eve of International Women’s Day last week, is especially significant because women are otherwise doing well on the job front. They’ve recovered 74% of the jobs they lost during the recession (men have only regained 62%). The problem is these jobs, overall, pay less.

I spoke with Barbara Gault, executive director of the IWPR, to get her take on what’s going on, and how women can reverse this trend.

Why are we losing ground?

One issue that receives too little attention is that men and women still do vastly different jobs—and men’s jobs pay more. 

If you look at the 20 most common jobs held by women and those held by men, they are wildly different. Only four overlap. Men are more likely to be software developers and chief executives.  Women are more likely to be nurses and administrative and teaching assistants.  

For me, 25% pay more than $1,000 a week, whereas among the most common jobs for women, only 10% pay more than $1,000 a week. We need faster progress at integrating [women into] traditionally male jobs that pay higher wages. 

As a working mom myself, I see why many women downshift at work to manage life at home. Is there any way to avoid making this sacrifice?

I think that some of [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg’s advice on this score is sensible: that women should not preemptively downgrade their careers based on their plans to have a family, but follow their aspirations until their family demands become a reality.  

But there’s another important issue women can tackle: Household labor and the responsibility for caregiving needs to be more equally distributed among men and women. And men need to start using more family-friendly benefits like…taking parental leave.  

Will technological advances and the growing trend of working remotely help narrow the wage gap as they allow women more flexibility?

Telecommuting is forcing a conversation about judging work by outcomes rather than face time, but if women are more likely than men to telecommute–and I don’t know if that’s the case–they may face discrimination associated with a persistent face-time culture in many fields.  Technology creates new opportunities to share information and to organize, however, that have enormous potential for a different kind of feminist movement.

Do you think it is possible for women today to have it all?

We need to build the supports in the U.S. that other high-income countries take for granted: parental leave, sick leave, and high quality, affordable child care.  With that in place, along with part-time parity and other workplace innovations, it will make “having it all” a less exhausting prospect than it is today. I believe we’ll get there! 



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