The Pay Gap

Eliana Linder

92% of companies in the Fortune 500 have male CEOs. According to PayScale, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 82 cents. In 2021, 83% of stay-at-home parents were women. 4 in 10 women report experiencing gender discrimination in the workplace in America. All of these are a direct result of gender inequality in America, but why does the gender pay gap exist? Despite all of the efforts to obtain gender equality in present-day society, there is one factor that just doesn’t seem to go away: society’s perception of mothers and their duty to their children.

It is important to note that there has been much progress in gender equality with the United States getting closer and closer to closing the pay gap each year. Many of the battles that females faced have been eliminated such as equal access to education. In the 1950s, only 1.2% of women in America went to college, whereas now 38.3% of women go to college. Today, more women attend college than men, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Before the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, it was completely legal for an employer to not hire someone just because they are a woman, which was a huge factor in why the gender pay gap was so high. The Equal Pay Act was passed in order to promote equal pay for equal work and foster positive change.

If so many of these problems have been eliminated, why isn’t the gender pay gap smaller? According to societal norms, women should be at home taking care of the children instead of their male counterparts. For instance, the mother is often given the responsibility of caring for sick children and driving them to extracurriculars. This idea that females should be caretakers rests solely on biology: women can bear children and men cannot.

If we take a look at the gender pay gap and compare it against women with children versus everything else, the truth of the gender pay gap comes to the surface. According to studies, a mother’s pay drops almost 5% for every child she has. Additionally, a study conducted by the Census Bureau revealed that mothers make 70 cents for every dollar a father makes. This phenomenon is known as the Motherhood Penalty.

The Motherhood Penalty is defined as “the phenomenon by which women pay decreases once they become mothers.” This is clearly a sexist idea by which women start at a disadvantage because they don’t have the same opportunities men do once they become a mother. On the other hand, there is a reverse phenomenon for men called the “fatherhood bonus,” where society sees men who are able to support their family and still be in the office as more deserving than mothers.

Furthermore, this penalty and bonus are not the same for all workers. It has been seen that men who have a higher salary experience receive a great fatherhood bonus. While the motherhood penalty can be seen as a more severe factor at lower incomes. 

A study done by Ascent showed that women who are married and have children make about 79% of a man’s average salary. Women without children and are unmarried make 94% of a man’s average salary. Before kids are conceived, men and women make almost the same amount of money, but after the first birth of a child, there is a significant decrease in a woman’s salary, while a man’s salary stays practically unaffected.

Although this problem is a little more difficult to solve than just passing a new law, many countries have taken measures in order to minimize the motherhood penalty. Iceland has accomplished being the country with the lowest pay gap by implementing different measures across the board. For example, Iceland was the first country to mandate companies with more than 25 employees to show that they pay men and women equally. 

Iceland also implemented paternity leave which is when fathers get paid time off after having a child. In Iceland, both parents are given 12 months of paid leave and they can split it however they choose, potentially being a 50/50 split. This specifically fights the gender norm that mothers are supposed to be taking care of kids which dramatically decreases the pay gap. Paternity leave is one of the most proactive ways to fight the gender pay gap and can be implemented easily by companies nationwide. 

The gender pay gap isn’t between men and women, it is between women with children and everyone else. The Motherhood Penalty is a misogynist phenomenon that is affecting women’s lives all over the world for the worse.  Fortunately, there are ways of fighting this stereotype of women being the main caregivers, and counties that have taken a proactive stance are seeing the wage gap close. The gender pay gap is a major issue affecting the United States, but the sexist societal norms that exist can be reversed.