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The Gender Pay Gap: Realities and Causes

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Every few years, new legislation and political agendas bring the gender wage gap to the forefront of the national consciousness.

It seems that every political figure has a spin on the pay gap and that most information offered in the media is based on ideology and not fact.

So what’s the real story with the gender pay gap? It is most assuredly real.

Depending upon which estimates you believe, white women make anywhere from 70 to 80 cents of every white man’s dollar. Depending upon which estimates you believe, white women make anywhere from 70 to 80 cents of every white man’s dollar.

The statistics for women of color are even worse. Even when statisticians account for personal characteristics, decisions about family/work balance, and negotiation skills, the wage gap is still 75 to 85 cents on the dollar.

In an era where overt sexist discrimination is anathema and in which no one will admit to paying women less than men, what could be causing this? Psychologists can offer several explanations, each of which plays a role.

Overt Discrimination

Overt discrimination is the practice of simply paying a woman less money because she is a woman. Most people think of this as the primary cause of any wage gap, but in reality it is probably the least common. More subtle, unconscious forms of discrimination are more typically at play.

This doesn’t mean overt discrimination never happens. In several studies, a strong majority of women questioned report at least one instance of overtly sexist treatment while on the job.

In male-dominated companies, women may be paid less then men as a matter of practice, particularly if salaries are not public knowledge and women have no ability to fight pay inequities.

Sexism in Marriage

Despite making great strides in professional careers, women are still the primary caretakers of their children in the majority of households. When women are single, or when husbands refuse to complete their fair share of work, women have less time to devote to their careers.

Consequently, they may not receive promotion as quickly or they may have their hours cut back at work, resulting in reduced pay.

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