Reevaluating the Wage Gap: Why Do Women Really Earn Less?

Val Meo is a second year in History and International relations that loves to travel, read, and debate in Model United Nations.

[Featured Image: Woman and a man see-sawing across a dollar sign.]

Teaching, nursing, and fashion-related careers are considered “soft” fields, which proportionately pay less and are seen as “anti-intellectual” and more “frivolous”. There is nothing inherently feminine about a career, but any field ruled by women causes a declined in salary and prestige of those jobs.

Computer sciences, for example, used to be run by women. The first computer programmer was Ada Lovelace, in 1843, who designed the first computer algorithm. Hedy Lamarr invents frequency-hopping technology that later would lead to the invention of wireless signals for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The ENIAC, one of the earliest versions of the computer and was the foundations of software programming, was developed by Jean Bartik and five other women. COBOL, a programming language for business application still used today, was developed in 1952 by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. In the 1960s, software engineering was thought of as “clerical” because it was considered easy, while hardware was a man’s job because it was more difficult than programming. In the late 1960s, once men realized that it was not easy and therefore could be very lucrative, they started a smear campaign against hiring women into computer science and programming roles. Many male-created aptitude tests aimed at testing the aptitude of computer skills were circulated across male-only groups such as fraternities. Culturally, women were discouraged from entering the field as well, through movies which established the stereotype of the computer programmer as an awkward male nerd. Consequently, this field, which was largely invented by women and had a roughly equal gender ratio went down to just 37% women in 1986. With the creation of video games in the 1980s and the choice to target them towards boys only, the stereotype that technology is just for boys and not girls became more popular.

We can see this today as well, based on how different cultures view certain professions. In the UK and the US, doctors have very lucrative careers. Medicine is a traditionally male-dominated, well-respected field with an average salary well into six-figures. Our society views their jobs as important, due to the length of their education and training process. These are universal traits about doctors, but doctors in Russia are making less than £7,500 a year and are one of the lowest paid professions in Russia. Medicine is a poorly respected field because the majority of doctors in Russia are women. They require the same amount of training as American doctors, but they are stereotyped as a caring vocation that is ‘naturally suited to women’ and therefore are treated as a blue-collar profession.

The publishing industry is another contemporary example. The field is 85% dominated by women in the United States specifically. However, most top positions at large publishing companies are male—Hachette, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House—and it is notoriously difficult profession to rise up the ranks. It is also very much underpaid, with a starting salary on average of just £20,000 or under, while the average starting salary for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the United State is upwards of £40,000.

The book industry continues to be a multi-billion-dollar business, meaning that there isn’t a lack of funds that cause its employees to be underpaid, but it has more to do with the lack of prestige to be seen in publishing due to women’s majority role.

The lack of prestige effects research fields is especially important research-based and therefore rely on funding from investors. In recent years, disproportionately more women are coming into these fields, causing the funding and prestige for the field to decline. This has already happened in the field of cultural anthropology, who very quickly went from a field seen as a manly, scientific discipline to being seen as a touchy-feely female thing and therefore the decrease in subsequent funding contributed to causing a decline in the field.

Women’s work is devalued in the job market because women are seen to have little value. Any field primarily dominated by women and associated with feminism—childcare, teaching, nursing, secretaries—is seen to have less to society. One of the mathematical ways to prove gender inequality within a society is by looking at the wage gap between men and women, which compares the average salaries of men and women across countries and ethnicities. Analyses of wages between genders only take into account how much women are making on average, assuming that there is an equal amount of men and women in every career field, and the difference is simply that women are being paid less for equal jobs. While that part of the problem, job segregation often pushes women into certain career paths that then become less prestigious and underpaid due to the large influx of women in those jobs.


Image credit: Gender Pay Gap, Ron Goodman, 2015.

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