By Sonia Sekhar
Former Governor Romney’s awkward “binders full of women” comment in response to a question on pay equity for women during the presidential town hall event at Hofstra University instantly became the subject of mockery, especially on the internet. The public’s ridiculous response to Governor Romney’s comment is an apt representation of an equally, if not more ridiculous, reality for most working women. The gaping disparities between working men and women are very real, and the problem will only continue to grow as the share of women in the workforce grows.
A new report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) finds that one year after graduation, women working full-time jobs earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, they only tend to earn 82 cents of every dollar earned by men. While it’s no revelation that there’s unequal pay between men and women, this study is interesting because it looks at a time in women’s lives when the typical arguments for unequal pay cannot be applied.
Unlike studies that look at pay differences between men and women mid-career, this one looks at differences one year out of college, so explanations such as family responsibilities don’t usually apply. The study acknowledges that there are statistically significant differences in the number of women versus men in fields such as engineering, but even among those higher paying occupations women tend to be paid less. What’s more, when a number of differences including, major and hours worked per week are controlled, women still tend to make less than men.
To be clear, the second half of the twentieth century brought dramatic progress in the area of equal pay, but the stagnation over the past decade should be cause for worry. The main reason experts provide to explain the wage-gap is women’s life choices. For example, more women may work part-time so they can spend more time with their children, or go into fields that generally don’t pay as much as the fields men go into. However, the AAUW study controls for most of these factors and there still remains an difference.
As the literature validating unequal pay between men and women continues to pile up the next logical question must be: what do we do about it? Should the government intervene? Or should women simply be more aggressive when they negotiate their pay? The AAUW says that the latter is not enough, and that employers and the government need to play a more active role in rectifying these disparities. But the million-dollar question is what might that policy look like?
Some advocacy organizations have suggested policies, including those that would increase investment in child-care and greater mentorship and occupational support for women entering the workforce. These might be a good start, but seem small like a small response to a big problem.
Heightened awareness of equal pay may have just been the result of Governor Romney’s gaffe, but the data and literature suggest that we will continue on our current path unless we do something about it.