Retail manager Sarah Thatcher was disappointed this month when she received her annual salary report. Although she obtained a raise, she discovered that a male coworker with her same title was still bringing home a dollar more per hour than she. Thatcher and her coworker perform the same job function, have the same amount of experience, and work the same number of hours. In response to this wage disparity, her boss explained that a company policy prevents employees from sharing their salary with other workers, therefore making her awareness of her coworker’s salary a violation. He also said that the male coworker had been hired at a larger salary and because of a corporate policy about equal raises between employees, he could not augment her salary to even the gap.
Thatcher is not the only woman limited by invisible social boundaries. According to the Field Guide to the U.S. Economy, women only earned 80 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2002. This statistic applies to an array of occupations. Wirth’s book Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling reports that male managers in the health sector earn approximately $222 dollars more per week than women managers. Men in the education sector earned about $288 dollars more per week than their female coworkers. In their book, Padavic and Reskin reveal that this wage gap is growing. Women and Men at Work includes a study done by the U.S. Government Accounting Office that confirmed wage gap growth from 1995 to 2000 in 7 out of 10 industries examined. The study reveals, “In the communications industry… in 1995 women earned 86 percent of men’s wages, but they earned only 73 percent in 2000.” This growing gap is a concerning, especially when we can observe its effects in our own community.
The 2007 University of Oregon Personnel List published by the Office of Institutional Research displays gender inequalities for public view. A female Chemistry Professor hired in September 1998, who received her ranking as professor in that same year, earns $7,433 and $8,351 less per year than two male chemistry professors who were both hired in 1998 and did not receive their rankings until 2004. A female psychology professor who received her rank in 1992 earns $7,440 less per year than a male psychology professor who didn’t earn his ranking until 2001. The U.S. Department of Labor predicted last year that by 2008, women will comprise forty-eight percent of the labor force in the United States; so how are employers getting away with exploiting nearly half of their workers?
Women’s’ historical struggle with equality in the workforce is no doubt contributing to the wage inequalities they are experiencing today. It wasn’t until the 1850s that women gained the opportunity to attend college, a significant factor in determining salary rate. Traditional family structure assigns domestic and child-rearing responsibilities to female “bread makers” and occupational responsibilities to male “breadwinners” as well, keeping women at home and out of the workforce. It’s not surprising that the Field Guide to the US Economy reports that seventy percent of women in the workforce are only part time laborers. Women dedicate approximately 23 hours per week to unpaid household work, compared to 14 hours for men. The field guide also explains that women have customarily been nurses, secretaries, and elementary school teachers, or so called “pink collar jobs,” that pay significantly less than traditionally male occupations.
The wage gap dates back to the Women’s Liberation Movement, which initiated the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It reads, “No employer shall discriminate…between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees… at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex…” The University of Oregon, among many other institutions, violates this equal work, equal pay act. It is hypocritical that an institution that assigns readings such as The Field Guide to the US Economy in Sociology 207 is guilty of the very inequality that the book points out. Institutions need to examine their salary reports and eliminate any gender inconsistencies. With the millions of dollars streaming into the U of O these days, it seems possible to increase the dawdling salaries of deserving female professors. Women may have entered the workforce late, but their paychecks shouldn’t have to make up for lost time.
Lower female paychecks are a result of past social norms and structures. These norms, however, are malleable. Women should not feel obligated to enter into “pink collar jobs.” They should be aware of how their pay compares to that of male coworkers. Just as many strong suffragettes fought for equal work for equal pay, it’s about time the modern woman find her voice in fighting for the rights she has already gained.