Equal Pay for Equal Work

April 24, 2009

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day takes place on the fourth Thursday in April. This year, I took my five-year-old niece Lucy to a nearby bakery to learn about what it takes to become a pastry chef. Specifically, we learned about making cupcakes. Lucy was impressed by the industrial-size refrigerators, ovens, and mixers. But the real “wow” factor came when the chef used a flame torch to melt the chocolate toppings. Lucy and I emerged from the bakery deeply impressed by the work, skill, and creativity that it takes to bake on a commercial scale. And Lucy was quite convinced that she would like to be a pastry chef when she grows up.

Belatedly, it occurred to me, that perhaps I should have insisted on a trip to a law office instead. The typical weekly salary for a female chef in 2008 was $439, and a female cook made only $338. Male chefs make considerably more, about $599 weekly, and male cooks made $368. That’s a pay gap of 75 percent between male and female chefs and 92 percent between male and female cooks. Equally troubling, both male and female chefs and cooks make a great deal less than other occupations (median weekly earnings for female full-time workers were $638, and for male full-time workers they were $798). So there are two gaps facing female chefs and cooks — the gender wage gap and the gap between their occupations’ earnings and the rest of the workforce.

Professional food preparation does not necessarily require extensive educational training (although such training is not uncommon in the field). It does require intelligence, hard work, and knowledge. Do I want my niece to go into this field? While both Lucy and I have nothing but admiration for the female chefs that we met today, I worry that she might struggle financially if she were to pursue this career.

Perhaps the most important aspect of our work for pay equity is the opportunity to raise wages in low-paying fields. AAUW arms our members and supporters with the knowledge to fight for equal pay. Just recently, we released new state-by-state earnings comparisons by gender that show that the wage gap is stubbornly in place. As for my niece, I think it would be great if she becomes a chef, and even better if she can earn a fair, decent wage at the same time.

This post was written by Catherine Hill, PhD, AAUW director of research.

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AAUWguest By:   |   April 24, 2009

1 Comment

  1. Ruth Wahtera says:

    Katherine, great post! When I was just out of college my husband worked in market research and I was a medical social worker. It galled me to no end that he made about three times my salary to research whether women would buy feminine hygiene spray while I was helping people get back to productive lives after catastrophic illnesses. I couldn’t get over the inequity of it.

    That was a long time ago, but today those taking care of our landscaping get paid more than those taking care of our children. We need to pass legislation prohibiting disciplinary action for sharing your salary and develop a system of comparable worth.

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