Tomorrow is my payday. And yesterday was equal payday in the US. So tomorrow I’ll be getting the check for my underpaid work.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job and I love my salary. I am paid well for a Social Worker and I am incredibly grateful for that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the fact that my paycheck would probably be higher if I were a dude.
I make two thirds what my husband makes. So in our home, the woman makes 66.6666 cents to every dollar the man makes. Granted, my husband is an engineer and I am a social worker and the stats on gender gap in wages are for the same fields, I believe. So regardless of gender discrimination, there may be some pay discrepancies between our two chosen career paths. But it is telling that my husband is in a male-dominated field and I am in a female-dominated field and he makes that much more than me. And remember, I make good money for a social worker, though this has not always been the case for me. When I first ended Social Work school and got a full-time job, I made less than half of what my husband was making at that time and about a third of what he makes now. Even by Social Work standards, I was underpaid. And most Social Workers’ salaries are, unfortunately, closer to my previous salary than my present one.
As I mentioned in this past post, fields that are dominated by women tend to yield lower salaries. And women are more likely to choose this work, not because it pays less obviously, but because the traits and skills necessary for this work are more aligned with the traits and skills women have been socialized to have, such as nurturing and care-taking skills. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that fields aligned with feminine traits and women are underpaid because work typically done by women is not as valued as work typically done by men.
I know some people would argue but people who are engineers and MBAs produce things and that type of work is going to profitable in a supply and demand economy. Now I’m no economist but I do see that logic in that. But I also see that surgeons and electricians (for example) earn higher wages than social workers. Like social workers and nurses, people in these fields don’t produce products but rather they provide services. One difference that stands out to me is that have higher percentages of men than women working within them. I also know that in female-dominated fields, such as nursing, men still out earn women.
So what is the explanation for these cases? That women earn less than men because they take time out for family? That doesn’t seem to explain away everything though, in particular why female-dominated service fields, to begin with, pay less than male dominated ones.
It goes back to what I was saying before: women are streamlined into careers like social work because these are fields that are aligned with skills women are socialized to have. And because these fields are more traditionally feminine and women’s work isn’t valued, people in these fields are underpaid. And even when men do enter these fields, they are still viewed as more valuable than their female colleagues and thus they are compensated better.
The bottom line is that women are socialized to behave in ways that are intrinsically valuable, but externally these traits aren’t seen as such and so they are not viewed as financially valuable. And because women are devalued, they are discriminated against and seen as less than. Add in any additional social factor such as race, class, non traditional gender identities and the discrimination will keep piling on.
Along the same lines as the wage gap is the unpleasant reality that the majority of people earning low-wages and receiving welfare cash assistance benefits are women. This speaks to gender inequity which includes blatant gender discrimination and gender norms as well as factors such as domestic violence and rape which disproportionately impact women. The latter two of these factors disenfranchise women by leaving them with trauma and other health concerns which may prevent them from working. Violence against women can also impede women’s economic equity because a woman may need to leave a job because perhaps her abuser works there too or her partner won’t let her work. These factors box in all women BUT for women of color, LBT women and/or immigrant women, additional oppressions box them further in (i.e., women of color are subject to racism AND more vulnerable to violence).
So I want my equal payday. But more than that I want an equal day for women of all races and identities. An equal day means respect and regard of women and equal freedom from violence in relationships and amongst coworkers and acquaintances. As women come to have more of these equalities, they will be seen and treated as humans and will be compensated equally for equal work.