The wage gap is real, and it hurts mothers

While the wage gap has significantly decreased once women began entering the workforce, most studies find women still make roughly 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.

by Catherine Van Weele, Staff Writer

The existence of the gender wage gap has been unceasingly contested in recent years.  

While the wage gap has significantly decreased once women began entering the workforce, most studies find women still make roughly 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Those that deny the wage gap exists reason that this difference in pay is not due to gender discrimination, but rather the life choices women decide to take.

However, upon closer inspection, these choices are largely influenced by gender norms and stereotypes that predispose women to inequitable conditions in the workplace.

One of the most predominant wage gap myths is that women choose to halt their careers and leave the labor force to care for their children.  

This seemingly sensible explanation concedes the role of childcare provider to women, even if it hinders on her own personal success.

It places mothers in an unfair position of receiving lower pay and therefore vying for a promotion is more difficult.

In a report conducted in 2012, The U.S. Department of Labor found that about 25 percent of new mothers return within two weeks after giving birth.

This quick return may be attributed to the fact that the United States is the only developed country in the world where employers are not legally required to provide paid maternity leave.

While 88 percent of workers have access to unpaid family leave under the Medical and Family Leave Act, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2016 that only 14 percent of employees have access to paid family leave.  

When paid maternity leave is available, mothers are more likely to return to the workforce a year after birth and work more hours.  

Additionally, mothers often receive the same salary they had once they return to the workforce.

This helps to keep their career paths on a similar trajectory as their male counterparts which would help to narrow the wage gap.

Not only would paid maternity leave reduce the wage gap, but it is also beneficial to newborn infants as they would receive more one-on-one care.

Equally important is paid paternity leave for new fathers, which is rarely ever offered and if the opportunity does arise it is usually not taken.

 Paternity leave allows fathers to foster a closer bond with their child from earlier on and serves to help reduce the caretaking responsibilities traditionally placed on the mother.  

In Sweden, every month of paternity leave will increase the mother’s salary seven percent four years later because it allows for mothers to work more hours.

By lessening the load of childcare on the mother, she can spend more of her time and energy on continuing to progress in her career.

There are also many new mothers that chose not to return to the workforce.

They do so because they want to stay at home to raise their baby, while other mothers face the expensive burden of childcare costs.  

Child Care Aware of America found that the average annual cost of center-based childcare in California is about $16,542 per family.

By reducing the costs of childcare by half, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found the hours worked by women increased up to 10 percent.

Even once children are old enough to go the school, the school day ends much sooner than the workday, meaning mothers are required to get jobs with flexible hours or opt to pay for after-school childcare.

Flexible hours are necessary, not only for caring for their children, but also because typically mothers complete the majority of household chores.

To propose that mothers should work more hours to close the wage gap is unreasonable since they are disproportionately responsible for maintaining the household.

Another popular wage gap myth is that women need to have stronger negotiation skills.

However, a study conducted by and McKinsey & Company found that women and men negotiate for a promotion or raise at the same rate, but men were more likely to receive what they asked for.

 Some women were consequently perceived as needy, overly demanding and less likable, among other negative attributes, after negotiations.

Stereotypes also make women out to be less competent than male co-workers, which can influence an employer’s decision.

Stereotyping is another reason why women are less likely to be seen in positions of leadership.  

Men are perceived as assertive and ambitious, while women are viewed as emotional and inept at making good decisions.

And the lack of female leaders continues to perpetuate the idea that women are the less favorable choice to lead.

While it appears that women choose to enter lower-paying career fields, research has shown that these occupations are low paying because they are dominated by women.  

A study from Cornell University found that when women entered male-dominated occupations, the overall pay dropped, including for men.

And when men entered female-dominated jobs, salaries increase.  

As a society, the work of women is viewed as less valuable than the work done by men.

The misconceptions toward the way gender stereotypes and norms have influenced the gender wage gap allows for problems to persist.

 The solution to the wage gap is far more complex than asking women to be better at negotiating or work more hours.

In the home, couples need to put aside gender roles and contribute equally to household chores and to childcare.

In the workplace, policies need to be adjusted to accommodate for new mothers and fathers. By dismantling the misguided notions of gender, a future with equal pay is attainable.

Catherine Van Weele is a freshman majoring in political science.