(Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley/Flickr)
Women who work full-time currently earn 82.1 percent as much as men, according to research from the Institute of Women's Policy Research.
"That's a major improvement from a few decades ago. In 1980, for example, women made just 63.9 percent what men did -- $565 a week (in 2013 dollars) to men's $885. The gender wage gap shrank rapidly from there because women started to earn more and more each year. Last year, women made $706 a week on average," writes Olga Khazan at The Atlantic.
Khazan points out that men's wages have risen and fallen over the years; last year, they made $860 per week, which is less than they earned in 1980. The conclusion? It's not that men are outstripping women's earnings, but that women's earnings aren't really catching up.
This raises several questions:
1. If women put in more hours, would their pay rise to equal men's?
In industries where there's no real benefit for "burning the midnight oil," like pharmacy, men and women earn roughly the same wage for the same hours. But not every occupation is like that: try to tell your boss at a law firm or in the financial sector that you need a last-minute day off to take the kids to the doctor, and you'll find yourself passed over for promotion.
One solution is affordable child care, but that's easier to talk about than to put into practice. Another is a system similar to Sweden's, which rewards men for taking time with their children, as well, effectively equalizing male and female contributions to work and home by approaching the problem from the other end.
2. Do more women need to take "male" jobs?
STEM jobs pay higher than helping professions like teaching and counseling, but are often heavily male-dominated. IWPR president Heidi Hartmann told Khazan outright that women moving into traditionally male occupations would raise their wages.
That's a great idea, of course, provided the individual women in question want to go into those fields. It's no secret that many women are culturally programmed to think of themselves as being bad at math and science. But on the other hand, some people, male and female, want to be social workers, and wouldn't be well-served by being shoehorned into STEM jobs that pay more. Which brings us to our next question...
3. Should we be focusing, at least in part, on fixing our value system?
It's worth thinking about the fact that we compensate some of the most important work with the least amount of money. In other words, perhaps teachers are poorly paid because women tend to be teachers, or perhaps teachers are poorly paid because we don't value education, and women are willing to accept that pay in order to engage in a helping profession.
In either case, the perfect answer would be to pay teachers better, and encourage men and women to be teachers -- or scientists or nurses or programmers -- according to their talents and desires, without having to worry that their decision would impoverish them.
Of course, it isn't a perfect world. But making it a better one will depend on considering all of these factors, and making sure people feel free to do the jobs they do best.
Tell Us What You Think
What's the solution for closing the gender pay gap? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.