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home : most recent : adams December 12, 2017


12/6/2017 6:07:00 PM
Mind the gap: Widening wage difference between mothers and fathers creates future costs
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The full institute study is available, beginning Dec. 8, at incap.org/iiwf.

Linda Lipp, Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

A working woman who becomes a mother is likely to experience a 4 to 5 percent wage penalty for that child and for each child she has thereafter.

A working man who becomes a father, on the other hand, is likely to get a pay bump - especially at the higher end of the income spectrum. That discrepancy, which exists even after controlling for human capital and occupational factors, is supported both by statistical data and sociological studies, said Erin Macey, policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families

“Men are seen as more employable, more loyal, more hard working just by virtue of being a father, than women are by being a mother,” Macey said. The difference is both a matter of the erroneous assumptions employers make, and the undeniable fact that women are forced more often than men to take time off work to care for a sick child.

“The wage gap is very much affected by the social and cultural gender norms,” said Jennifer Rohlf, director of empowerment for the YWCA of Northeast Indiana. Women are expected to be caregivers, and to enter into caregiving and “helping” professions, “which is a noble thing to get into but it doesn’t pay as well.”

So, it tends to be the woman’s responsibility rather than the man’s to take off because she’s expected to and because she earns less, and she earns less because she is forced to take off more often and can’t put in the extra hours and effort expected to earn raises and promotions.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Macey said.

Gap widens with age

Studies have shown that, while there is still a wage gap between men and women when they leave college and enter the workforce, the gap starts to widen dramatically when women reach the age of about 30 - and not coincidentally, are starting familes, Rohlf added.

“I think so much of why the wage gap is where it is occurs very much at a social and cultural level,” Rohlf said. “People have this misconception that when they hear ‘wage gap,’ it’s a clear-cut case of classic discrimination, but it’s a little more discreet than that.

“It’s not like someone intentionally is sitting there and deciding that women need to be making less than men. That’s not what that looks like. It’s more what our social and cultural norms are telling us. People often aren’t realizing they’re treating men and women differently within those workplace scenarios based on those expectations of who should be doing what when.”

The observations on the so-called “motherhood penalty” are contained in a new report from the Institute, produced with financial assistance from the Women's Fund of Central Indiana. A preliminary report was released in October, after 2016 census data became available, threw some of the Institute’s own assumptions under the bus.

“We spent all summer building background data on the (gender) wage gap, the analyses done over time,” Macey said.

Researchers expected the state’s wage gap, then sitting at 24 percent, would probably decrease a bit. Instead, it rose to 26 percent, “which was a bit of a shock. It led to delays on getting the report out. We had to rethink and reframe,” Macey said.

Through a gender lens

The Institute, a program of the Indiana Community Action Association, examined issues such as self sufficiency and the status of working families in previous reports. This one is the first to look at the wage gap through the gender lens, with wage and poverty data that drills down to the county level.

“We just felt a driving need to focus more on equities, as an organization, to begin to break things down by gender and race and ability status. This was a nice first step into that kind of space,” Macey said.

Indiana’s wage gap, at 26 percent for 2016, is the sixth highest in the nation and exceeds the gap in all four surrounding states. Based on the median wage for a full-time job, women in Indiana, in other words, make 74 percent of what men make.

On a county-by-county basis, for 2011-2015, the smallest wage gap in the state is 5.6 percent in Martin County, in southern Indiana. The largest gap, 39.8 percent, is in Porter County, in northern Indiana.

Of the 12 counties Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly covers in northeast Indiana, seven have wage gaps larger than the state’s median; two are tied with the state at 26 percent; and three - Adams, Allen and Elkhart - have gaps less than the state median.

Generally speaking, the gaps are narrower in more densely populated counties, although Martin, with a large number of federal workers, is an exception, the study noted.

Greater inequalities

Focusing on the overall gender wage gap obscures the fact that there are even wider gulfs for particular groups of women. Compared to median earnings of Hoosier men who work full-time, black and biracial women working full-time experience a 36 percent wage gap and Latinas experience a 44 percent wage gap. That equates to a $17,871 per year difference for black women, a $17,925 per year difference for biracial women and a $21,567 per year difference for Latinas.

These women experience smaller gaps when compared to men within their own racial or ethnic group, but that is because men within those groups earn considerably less than their white and Asian counterparts.

The YWCA usually hosts a rally or educational event in April, on or near the date to which women have to work beyond the end of the previous year to earn the same amount men made during that previous year. This year, it also hosted events in August, which represented how long black women have to work to earn what white men made the previous year, and November, which is when Latina women have to work to earn the same as white men.

Studies also have shown that women are less likely than men to negotiate for higher wages, and that when they do, they are often thought of as too aggressive or in some other negative light. When men negotiate, they’re seen as assertive and a good leader.

“Women, in the workplace, are still not able to assert themselves and be perceived in positive ways,” Rohlf said. “So that can have consequences because they’re not getting the raises and they are being perceived as a bossy, negative individual.”

The bottom line

Beyond discussing the question of the inequities represented by the gender wage gap, “we want to make sure people understand the consequences of failing to close that gap,” Macey said.

Women are more likely than men to live in poverty, and they are less likely to build the wealth that is needed to weather life’s shocks and build a secure retirement.

The Institute also wants to draw attention to potential policy changes that could help close the gap. Less than two-thirds of private employers in the state, for example, offer even a single day of paid sick leave, Macey noted. Since women more often take off to care for children, that puts them at an economic disadvantage.

Studies also have shown that women are more likely to be hurt in careers that lack require longer hours and have rigid work schedules.

“Industries that are not flexible tend to have the largest wage gaps,” Rohlf noted.

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