I’ve been binge watching Mad Men lately, and, speaking as a woman, I cannot imagine living or working in the 1960s or 1970s. I think I've told my husband during every episode how glad I am to be a woman, a wife, a mother and an employee in the 21st century. The blatant disregard for the value of women in that series is so overpowering I sometimes find it difficult to finish an installment.
Having been born in the 1980s, I have luckily not felt the weight of a terribly imbalanced work environment or home life. In the 13 years since I graduated college, I've heard older women complain about their first work experiences, but like so many things in life, if you haven’t lived it, it’s nearly impossible to imagine.
Because I have never had to struggle for a job based on my gender and because I have been respected and valued as a community member, wife, mother and employee, I never considered looking into the possibility that a gender gap might still exist. Honestly, I was stunned by the significant gap that remains in both the United States and across the globe.
The Global Gender Gap Index was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities around the world and for comparisons between and within countries. The index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria.
Of the 145 counties included in the study, the United States ranked 28th. That ranking stunned me. I assumed the U.S. would be leap years ahead in this area. Wow, was I wrong. Not only is there a disparity in wages, this study ranks the United States 40th in educational attainment, 64th in health and survival and 72nd in political empowerment for women.
In purely financial terms, women in the United States make 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a wage gap of 20 percent. Women in Iceland, the top ranking country, make 88 cents for every dollar men make, and the country has implemented changes that could completely close the gap in the next 10 years. The study is not so optimistic about the United States, stating that it will be at least 2059 before women earn the same as men.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research says that women make up half of the U.S. workforce, and are equal, if not the main, breadwinner in four out of 10 families. Women receive more college and graduate degrees than men, and yet, on average, continue to make considerably less than men in virtually every occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data.
Like the Global Gender Gap Index, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research also cites a 20 percent gender wage gap between women and men who work full-time, year-round. The institute gathers data in a series of fact sheets updated twice per year that reflect a number of different inequality factors including discrimination in pay, recruitment, job assignment and promotion, and women’s disproportionate share of time spent on family care.
In April 2016, the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee released a report titled, “Gender Pay Inequality – Consequences for women, families and the economy.” This report showed that a woman working full-time, year-round earns $10,800 less per year than a man. This yearly disparity can add up to nearly a half million dollars over the span of a career. This inequality remains true, even when women are more qualified than men. The study showed the typical woman with a graduate degree earns $5,000 less per year than the typical man with a bachelor’s degree.
While the 1963 Equal Pay Act mandates men and women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protections against discrimination based on an individual’s national origin, race, religion and gender, the committee insists more must be done to ensure equality.
In a report by the Pew Research Center, all groups of women have made progress in narrowing the wage gap since 1980. However, white and Asian women have narrowed the gap with white men at a much greater pace than black and Hispanic women. White women have narrowed the gap from 60 cents for every dollar in 1980 to earning 82 cents for every dollar in 2015. By comparison, black women only narrowed the gap by 9 cents, from earning 56 cents for every dollar in 1980 to 65 cents today. Hispanic women have only narrowed the gap by 5 cents, earning 58 cents on the dollar in 2015.
While reducing the gender wage gap seems to benefit only women, research says otherwise. According to the Global Gender Gap Index report, the most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human talent—the skills and productivity of its workforce. Similarly, the study showed an organization’s performance is determined by the human capital it possesses and its ability to use this resource efficiently. Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world’s available talent pool has a vast bearing on how competitive a country may become or how efficient a company may be.
While strides have been made, a great deal of work remains in closing the gender gap. It’s sad to think we will have to wait another 42 years before the gender wage gap becomes virtually nonexistent. Maybe my grandchildren will watch a show about the 2000s and 2010s and feel outraged by the way women were treated in the workforce.