Play Fair: Why Women’s Earnings Peak and Gender Pay Gap Matter
New research from PayScale shows that women’s lifetime earnings peak at an earlier age than do men’s, and the gap never improves, setting up a lifetime of playing catch up that never pans out.
“This is not terribly surprising,” says Lydia Frank, Vice President of Content Strategy at PayScale. “But it’s always good to reframe this conversation.”
This month ironically is also the 56th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act becoming law. And both the research and the anniversary come at a time when the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is literally playing out the gender pay gap on the international media stage.
On track to win their fourth world trophy, the team has brought attention to the gender gap in compensation for the men and women’s teams.
According to The Ringer, “The players should already have an airtight case for equal pay without this résumé, but they’re the winningest team in the sport and are more successful on bigger stages than their male counterparts, who missed last year’s World Cup entirely. And success isn’t just defined by the women’s record three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals: In 2016, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint noted, the women brought in nearly $20 million more in revenue than the men the previous year but earned a quarter of their pay. Also, according to the latest lawsuit, were a woman to play in and win 20 national team games in a year, she’d net $99,000, 38 percent of the $263,320 a man would earn in bonuses for the same feat.”
That reframing, Frank suggests, can be using the data to take a look at “greedy jobs,” she says, those that compensate for high face time and require in-office hours. Those higher compensated jobs may not offer the flexibility women and all parents need.
“We have to think about the old school idea of primary parent vs. breadwinner and how to evaluate productive employees,” Frank says. “Maybe the times they are the most productive are in the third shift after the child goes to bed.”
PayScale reports that at age 44 women reach their peak career earnings of a median of $66,700. Men reach their median peak earnings of $101,200 at age 55. This shows a difference of 11 years between the genders when wages max out.
Women can never catch up.
In the seven years since PayScale first did this research on peak earnings, women ’s earnings peaked at 39 years and men at 48 years. So, men’s wages will continue to grow for an additional two years when compared to wage grown and peak earnings from seven years ago.
So it’s gotten worse.
“A big piece of that is women are not progressing in senior leadership roles, or STEM roles. The impact is seen more often on women than men, that childcare and family responsibilities, unpaid maternity leave all of it impacts salary,” Frank says.
And with women living longer than men, on average, they need more years to accumulate wealth at these higher incomes to ensure a comfortable retirement and quality of life.
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The bad news, according to PayScale, is compensation is unfair from the start. The median income of women age 22 is $40,400 versus $52,500 for men age 22. By the time women are 37-38, the growth of median wages stays flat.
“The barriers are there are these systemic issues,’ Franks says, “for women and particularly for women of color. But the more info you have, the more you are able to craft a plan.”
But policies can perhaps address and fix the problem. This past week Alabama became the 49th state to sign a fair wage law.
“The law prohibits employers from paying employees of another sex or race, who perform the same work as others, less wages. It makes exceptions for systems of seniority and merit. It also ensures the ability to bring a lawsuit at the state and federal level,” according to the state’s site.
Before you get to the point of filing a law suit, you can take other steps.
That includes making choices on what companies to work for, those that compensate fairly with gender pay equity. “You can also speak up if there is a long tradition of inequity,” Frank says.
Where you go to work in the first place at the start of your career matters. “Look for organizations that think intentionally about these issues and build support with benefits and culture,” Frank says.
If you are not in your early career phase and are playing catch up, it is not too late to think about where you want to put your time, energy and talent,” Frank suggests. “There are organizations that are supportive of gender equity.”
But you need to do your homework.
PayScale reports that legal occupations have the largest divergence of wages for men and women. Men in legal occupations make the most money at age 56, when their median earnings are $168,800 annually compared to women in legal occupations, who reach their peak income at age 35 with a median income is $75,000. That’s a difference in the peak income of $93,800.
Women of all races make less than white men when they start their careers and their wage growth begins to taper off in their late 20s (much earlier than for white women). By the time white men hit their peak wages, they are earning $43,000 more than African American women earn at their peak.
Research what companies practice wage fairness. PayScale offers info on salaries for specific job titles in geographic areas. LinkedIn is also a key source of information where you can tap into your network and build a network around a company you may be looking to work for, Frank says.
And if you are in the process of interviewing at different companies, ask the compensation question directly.
“Do not be confrontational,” Frank says, “but you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. They will want to convince you they are fair.”
No, the pay gap is not new nor is it surprising, but it is fixable.
“At this glacial rate of improvement, women will have to wait until 2059 for equal pay. For women of color, the news is even worse: Black women will have to wait until 2119 for equal pay, while Hispanic women will wait until the year 2224,” according to Beth Dreher in Yahoo.
According to a report from the National Partnership for Women & Families, the gender wage gap costs American women nearly $500 billion a year.
But, just as Frank suggests, you can stop the flatlining of your earnings on your next career move.
Dreher writes, “When applying for a new job, stop answering questions about your salary history, which perpetuate the gender wage gap. Nine places, including California, Massachusetts, New York City and Philadelphia have banned employers from inquiring about past pay. If you’re faced with a question about salary history, say something like, “I want to learn more about the job first, in order to have a better sense of my salary expectations.” For more tips, look for a workshop through the American Association of University Women (AAUW).”
While all eyes are on the U.S. women’s soccer team to keep on winning, all American women are hoping to win with their fair paychecks as well.