The wage gap in America is alive and well, with women typically earning only 77 cents for every one dollar their male counterparts earn. The gap is often blamed on discrimination: but before you grab your pitchfork and storm the human resources department, it is important to understand the other reasons the wage gap exists and what’s being done about it.


Discrimination does happen. This claim is supported by the fact that women make less than men, even when factors such as industry, education, race and tenure are taken into account. It seems women bring home less bacon than men, even when they start with a pig of the same size. Experts disagree on exactly how much discrimination contributes to the wage gap, but they do agree that it contributes.

Traditional Gender Roles

Though many men are now equal partners in household chores and child rearing, old habits die hard. In most households the woman is still the one who calls off when the kids are sick or home for a snow day, as well as when someone needs to let the dryer repairman in. This contributes to the wage gap, which is calculated assuming that the man and woman being compared both worked full time all year rather than comparing wages hour for hour. A woman is also more likely to take an extended workforce leave to focus on raising a new family, resulting in resume gaps that decrease the wage she can demand when reentering the workforce and causing her to miss annual raises she may have received had she continued working.


No matter what created it, the wage gap now somewhat perpetuates itself. A woman may make less than her spouse after leaving the workforce until her children started school. But now that she makes less, it makes sense for her to stay home with a sick child rather than her partner who makes more money – and loses more by staying home. “The world today is vastly different than it was in 1983, but sadly, one thing that has remained the same is the pay gap between men and women,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York, 14th). “After accounting for so many external factors, it seems that still, at the root of it all, men get an inherent annual bonus just for being men. If this continues, the only guarantees in life will be death, taxes and the glass ceiling. We can’t let that happen.” Discrimination is illegal and immoral, but it is not the only reason for the wage gap. Women should undoubtedly receive equal pay for equal work, but making this a reality requires understanding and addressing all of the wage gaps causes – a task the experts are struggling with. There are many women, activists, human resource professionals and lawmakers currently working to close the gap. In the meantime, advocate for yourself and others whenever you see the need. How do you think the wage gap has made an impact in our society? Leave your comments in the section below! Photo by Jez S/CC BY