Let’s Remedy the Wage Gap

by Lori Bettison-Varga

Lori Bettison-VargaResolving the disparity between men’s and women’s earnings is one important avenue to a secure financial future. Yet despite 50 years of advocacy and legislative efforts, equal pay for equal work remains elusive for millions of women.

Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that women who are full-time wage and salary workers are, on average, paid only 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. The gap is even larger for women of color: African-American women earn 70 cents, and Hispanic women earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by men. As women grow older, the gap widens. Concerns about the wage gap between men and women too often are dismissed as the result of other, non-discriminatory factors: level of education, family choices, career path, and years of experience. However, research that controls for these factors makes it clear that there is still a gap in wages that cannot be explained by any factor other than the individual’s gender.

As the president of a women’s college, I am well aware that one year after graduating, women earn 20 percent less than men in the same stage of their careers. Ten years later, that disparity grows to 30 percent. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research estimates that, over a lifetime, a college-educated woman may lose $400,000 to $2 million to wage gaps. The gaps persist — and are accentuated — for women who hold professional degrees and PhDs, according to research compiled by the American Association of University Women.

Some might be inclined to celebrate progressive accomplishments, such as BLS data indicating that, since 1979, on an inflation-adjusted basis, earnings for college-educated women have increased by 31 percent, while those of male college graduates have increased by only 16 percent. However, the snail’s pace of this progress illustrates that, at the current rate of increase, it will be 2056 before women achieve wage parity.

Building on our community of strong women and our long-standing work to improve gender equality, Scripps College is uniquely placed to assume a leadership role in ameliorating this situation.

Sean Flynn, associate professor of economics, has partnered with Nancy Macko, professor of art, to teach Incentives Matter: The Economics of Gender and Choice, a Core II class that addresses issues relating to the economics of women in America — ranging from glass ceilings to future prospects to the acute implications personal choices can have on financial security.

Scripps’ Money Wise Women, a group of students who are financially literate and trained in asset and debt management by our economics faculty, mentors other students in areas such as student loans, purchasing a home mortgage, and saving for retirement. They hold office hours, maintain a social media presence, and organize large public speaking events.

In January 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. This January, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will help close the wage gap between women and men working the same jobs, was re-introduced in both the House and Senate. While legislative avenues seek to provide equal pay protection, this multi-dimensional problem will not be solved solely by regulations. Employers can and should take their own initiative to audit worker compensation, monitor for gender equality, and take steps to correct inequity. With the number of female college graduates beginning to outstrip their male counterparts in numerous fields, women themselves must serve as their own best advocates — beginning with their first career contract. The price is too high to demand anything less. I salute our Career Planning & Resources department, establishing specialized networking opportunities and events with alumnae and industry experts and holding skill-development workshops, including salary negotiations and mock interviews.

I am confident that with leadership in the public sector, Scripps students and alumnae in the vanguard, and an ever-growing highly educated female workforce, we can close the wage gap and achieve gender equality at last.


« »