Women’s pay shortchanged

Michelle Higgins, 51, working in her office on Sept. 13. Photo by: Deborah Lee/Arizona Sonora News

Eighteen cents. That is the difference between a woman and a man working in Arizona.

According to data by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s (IWPR) project Status of Women in the States, Arizona ranks 17 out of 51, which includes the 50 states and D.C. For every dollar a man earns in Arizona, a woman earns 82 cents. This means that the wage gap is narrower in Arizona than most states, but it might not be because the situation is better here.

Julie Anderson, a senior research associate who manages the Status of Women in the States project in D.C., said that in some states the wage gap might appear smaller due to factors like men not particularly having higher earnings so it just seems like the wage gap is narrower.

While the gap continues to narrow, if Arizona continues at its current pace, women will not receive equal pay until the year 2044.

Why is it that women earn so little compared to men?

Although the answer is quite complicated and multilayered, to Anderson, the single most important explanation for the wage gap is the reality that women and men go into different occupations. Women are overrepresented in the service industry – such as waitressing – which has lower pay, whereas men go into technological and financial fields, like engineering and medicine. According to research, men are 2.3 times more likely to work in STEM occupations in Arizona than women.

“Women sometimes don’t see themselves in those jobs,” Anderson said.

Michelle Higgins, the president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Tucson branch, said that while there has been an increase of women in STEM jobs, the increase is not by much.

The different direction in occupation might be due to common stereotypes of women, such as women being more nurturing and caring whereas men are seen as being the bread winners of the household. “Women choose more to be nurses than physicians and girls pick up on certain cultural messages at a young age,” said Higgins.

The situation doesn’t get much better for minority women. Anderson said, “Women of color face a double penalty for their gender and ethnicity.” Among all women in Arizona, Hispanic women earn the least and nationally, a Hispanic woman earns 54 cents for every dollar paid to a white man, according to Anderson.


Graphic by Deborah Lee (Source: The Institute of Women’s Policy Research)

Deena Stewart-Hitzke, executive chair of the Pima County/Tucson Women’s Commission, said the language barrier can contribute to the gap because it’s harder for these women to advocate for themselves. Alba Jaramillo, director of the Latina Leadership Institute and Women Out of Poverty in Tucson, agrees with Stewart-Hitzke and said that there is a lot of underestimation of these women. “There are barriers in being a woman of color,” Jaramillo said. “Racism and discrimination still exists.”

Another contributing factor to the wage gap is the fact that many women need flexible schedules. The role of taking care of a family a lot of the time falls on women, said Higgins. Michelle Pitot, chief of staff of YWCA Southern Arizona, a non-profit organization located in Tucson, said women are the ones who take the lead when they have kids.

“Motherhood impacts every woman despite their earnings,” said Pitot.

The wage gap widens as women age because they are more likely to become mothers, according to Anderson. “There is this idea about the ideal worker who is on call 24/7, can stay until 10 p.m., and quite frankly women with families aren’t able to do that,” Anderson said.

This figure portrays data reflecting the United States. (Source: The Institute of Women’s Policy Research)

Although women with a higher education earn more income and earnings go up at each degree achieved, that just means that men’s earnings are going up that much higher, according to Anderson. In Arizona, one of the biggest wage gaps among women are those who work full time with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median income for these women is $50,000 while for men it is $75,000. This amounts to a gender earnings ratio of 66.7 percent. The wage gap becomes wider and wider the more educated a woman becomes.

This is partly due to the fact that as women get older, they are more likely to become mothers, which in turn incurs a “motherhood wage penalty,” according to Anderson. On the other hand, with the addition of children, men would be perceived as the provider of the household which might lead to a “fatherhood wage bump.”

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 exists to attempt to abolish the wage disparity but the lack of robust enforcement makes it ineffective, according to Anderson. Stewart-Hitzke said that the bottom line is that if people can pay someone cheaper they’ll take advantage of that. “Laws unfortunately don’t erase discrimination,” she said.

The way to combat the disparity in wages is to educate and raise awareness surrounding the issue, Higgins said. Anderson agrees and adds that women should be informed about the disparity and also about jobs and earning potential in general.  If girls learn about these issues in their formative years, then the more educated they would be in choosing a career path.

According to Anderson, raising the minimum wage would also help in closing the wage gap because women tend to be in more minimum wage jobs than men – particularly women of color.

“It’s [the wage gap] not just a women’s issue,” said Higgins, “it’s a family issue that impacts husbands, wives and children.”

Deborah Lee is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at deborahlee@email.arizona.edu

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