Why Women Still Earn Less than Men

Statistics show that women working full-time make up to $1 million less than men over a lifetime. This is known as the gender wage gap, but some think of it as more of a gaping abyss.

Many women have a sneaking suspicion that they’re unfairly overlooked and underpaid, writes Evelyn Murphy, a former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and a coauthor of “Getting Even: Why Women Still Don’t Get Paid Like Men–and What to Do About it.” “But do they realize how they’re underpaid?”

What’s behind this gap and what can women do about it?

The Facts 

(Note: These figures are for full-time workers and exclude time off for maternity leave, so the playing field is fairly level.)

$ Recent figures show that for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 77 cents, on average. The gap for women of color is even greater. For every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns, African-American women earn 61 cents, and Latinas earn 52 cents.

$ The difference over a lifetime can be staggering. And education doesn’t necessarily narrow the gap: For women with less than a high school education, the gap is about $300,000 over the course of a lifetime. For women with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the gap is $723,000. Keep in mind that the more education you earn, the higher your salary is. So salaries are higher at this level of education, which is why the wage gap is also higher.

Take a free education decision test to see if more education could boost your salary and your career.

$ The gap is greater in some states than others. According to the Center for American Progress, the greatest gap for college-educated women is in Virginia. Women there lose more than $1 million over a 40-year career, compared with men. The smallest gap is for women working as office support staff in California. They lose “only” $134,000 during a career.

$ Full-time working dads have a 2.1% earnings increase for each child. For full-time working moms, it’s a 2.5% decrease.

The Reasons
1. Women are “mommy-tracked”: Experts believe that some bosses assume moms can’t focus on their jobs as well if they’re worrying about sick kids and day-care issues. So some women end up accepting less pay for working as hard as anyone else.

2. Women aren’t promoted as much: Look around most companies, and you’ll find many more men in executive positions. In fact, women run only about 15 of the Fortune 500 companies. Why? Some experts say it’s simply because women don’t seek out promotions.

I will be honest. In my career, I have tended to promote more men than women, Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, wrote in Forbes.com. “It is mostly women’s fault. They simply don’t ask for … promotions as often as men do.”

3. Women don’t negotiate as much: Rein and others also contend that women don’t negotiate for salaries and raises as frequently as men do.

4. Sex discrimination: “Here’s the real reason women get paid an enormous percentage less than men,” Murphy wrote in The Boston Globe. “Because they’re women.” She says sex discrimination isn’t necessarily intentional but may be a result of “mindless bias and careless stereotyping.”

The Solution
The first step to getting paid fairly is to know your true market value and to use this information strategically. Use a tool such as a salary calculator to find out how much you should be making–based on your position, education, experience, and location. Then use this information to negotiate the salary that you deserve. Asking is the first step toward bridging the salary gap.

And if you feel like you’re being discriminated against because of your gender–or for any other reason–don’t just sweep it under the rug. Bring it up with your boss and, if that fails, consider going to HR. Keep everything in writing so that you can support your position.

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