The income gap between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has continued to widen in the past decade, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “the feminization of poverty.”
Studies show that empowering women is a critical factor in freeing millions of people caught in the cycle of poverty and hunger. By providing women with access to economic and educational opportunities, as well as the autonomy needed to take advantage of such opportunities, an important obstacle to poverty eradication would be overcome.
Joint efforts in empowering women through narrowing the pay-wage gap are steadily increasing. There are now several resources from legislation and non-profit movements that everyday citizens like you or I can get involved in to leverage momentum. Before an impact can be made though, understanding the cause and effects across the varying demographics can make our efforts a lot more efficient.
Among men and women employed full time, 60 percent of the wage gap can be attributed to known factors such as work experience at 10 percent, union status at 4 percent, and the aforementioned choice of occupation at 27 percent, among other measurable differences. A woman’s work experience is abbreviated if she needs to take maternity leave or take time off from a job to care for a child, which she is more likely to do than her male counterpart.
Another quarter of the wage gap is attributable to the differences in wages paid by industries that employ mostly men or mostly women. These include blue-collar industries such as mining, manufacturing, and construction, which generally employ men, and service-sector or clerical jobs, which generally pay less and employ more women.
A woman’s access to higher education is one mitigating factor that has reduced the gender wage gap. This has helped ease the disparity by nearly 7 percent, but women’s access to college and advanced degrees has not been enough to close the gap completely.
Despite the gains women have made in the workforce, the pay gap persists, but individuals in the workforce, community, and government have the ability to help chip away at the pay gap.
While some CEOs have been vocal in their commitment to paying workers fairly, American women can’t wait for trickle-down change. The American Association of University Women, the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls, urges companies to conduct salary audits to proactively monitor and address gender-based pay differences.
Individual women can also learn strategies to better negotiate for equal pay. AAUW holds salary negotiation workshops that help empower women to advocate for themselves when it comes to salary, benefits, and promotions.
For policy makers to evoke change, the Paycheck Fairness Act would improve the scope of the Equal Pay Act, which hasn’t been updated since 1963, with stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, enhance federal enforcement efforts, and prohibit retaliation against workers asking about wage practices.