The Simple TruthApril 12, 2012
Before I started working at AAUW, I never really gave much thought to the gender pay gap. Sure, I knew it existed. I knew the numbers — women make 77 cents, on average, for every dollar earned by men — and I wasn’t pleased about it, but that was about the extent of my concern.
There are a handful of reasons why I wasn’t on the front lines of the fight for fair wages — being a post-grad, for example, made it difficult to conceive of any stable wage, let alone a fair one. But the most notable reason was that I simply didn’t know how the gender pay gap actually worked. I didn’t know how it was calculated, what numbers people used, or where these numbers even came from. Most of all, I didn’t understand exactly how these numbers ended up being different for men and women.
Today, I know and understand all of those components — and then some. And while I have the advantage of working in a research department that is dedicated to this issue, I know that anyone can learn these basics. With our recent publication The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, anyone and everyone can understand how the wage gap works. Updated with the most recent statistics just in time for Equal Pay Day, the brochure is short, accessible, and free of academic jargon or lengthy analyses.
However, understanding a subject like the pay gap is not without its consequences. While I am less ignorant, I am also more frustrated by the research presented in The Simple Truth. I am frustrated that the pay gap increases as men and women get older: Women ages 16–19 who are working full time earn 95 percent of what their male counterparts earn, compared with 76 percent for women 65 and older. I am frustrated by the fact that while the pay gap among all full-time workers is dreary enough, it’s even worse when we focus on minorities. For example, on average Hispanic and Latina women and African American women earn 91 percent of what men in their same racial demographic earn but only 61 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of what white men get paid. I am frustrated that while critics attribute the pay gap to men’s and women’s choices, there remains a 12 percent unexplained difference — after controlling for things like college major, industry, number of children, and other factors — in earnings between male and female college graduates 10 years after college, as shown in AAUW’s research report Behind the Pay Gap.
But anger and frustration aren’t necessarily bad things. When anger is properly harnessed, it becomes fuel for social change. Anger gives us the incentive to get up and actually do something. Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.” With knowledge and truth — and the energy that both incite — we can collectively work together to ensure that all women earn their fair share for a job well done. So take the first step, and share the truth with your friends, your communities, and your politicians by giving them a dose of The Simple Truth. Order copies of the report online for free, and look out for updates on what you can do on Equal Pay Day this year.
This post was written by AAUW Research Intern Julie Smolinski.