During yesterday’s English classes, my eighth-graders read an article about the gender pay gap in the United States. The article, published by the Center for American Progress using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, explains not only that women statistically receive compensation at a rate of 82 percent of that of men, but that most women of color fare even worse. The piece explores a variety of causes (the influence of traditional gender roles, experience deficits due to child care, discrimination, etc.) and puts forth several possible remedies, including passing the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2019 (which died in a senate committee; it has been revived as the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2021 and is currently in review by applicable senate committees), and expanding access to paid family leave and sick days. Additionally, it calls on us all to examine the biases that favor gender segregation in particular jobs, which results so often in fewer opportunities for women in work positions traditionally filled by men.
Setting aside the unlikelihood of that last strategy to take place nationwide in a meaningful manner, we might still do well to consider much more that is related to it. For example, two generations ago, the typical family had one breadwinner and one homemaker. Certainly, that paradigm too often trapped women in the role of homemaker. However, over the decades, the evolution of our society and economy has robbed the American family. The vast majority of households could never sustain themselves today on a single income. And while norms have evolved to the point that stay-at-home dads raise barely an eyebrow, economic realities for most families do not permit many fathers to choose that role. While employers collectively have enjoyed the benefit of drawing two adults away from many households, generating returns from what an expanded workforce can produce, too many American families lose the benefit of having an adult at home who tends mostly to the home and the care of its inhabitants.
Also, just two generations ago, many more homes included members of the extended family, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles. As our norms have favored the independence of nuclear families, we have given up the advantage of having children interact in the home with a variety of adults–adults who, incidentally, can each provide a meaningful share of care, guidance, and love. Additionally, the economic benefits of reduced housing costs go unrealized. Of course, this results from choices made by individual families, but our culture’s norms help to shape such choices. Any reflection on our societal conventions overall might just include this consideration.
To be sure, none of what I mention here would address the plight of women who single-handedly earn their families’ incomes and care for everyone in their households. These circumstances require intervention from a society that understands that resources devoted to women and families represent not an expenditure, but an investment. Investments in such worthy priorities bring precious returns, certainly in human terms, but also in economic ones. Children with quality childcare grow up healthy in body and mind, are more academically inclined, and enter the workforce with greater prospects for themselves and a stronger contribution to the overall economy. Working mothers who receive the support they need receive an invaluable message from their society that they and their families matter to the world, and that can make all the difference in achieving parity that not only squares with the values of an enlightened culture, but also enables an economy to thrive.
Cover photo courtesy of Sarah Chai from Pexels.
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3 thoughts on “Gender Pay Gap: More to Consider”
Beautifully stated and very thoughtfully considered.
I am in a unique position to be a single mother who, if frugal, doesn’t *have* to work — which is why, for now, I choose to do so only part-time. With that choice, I am allotted (by the time gods) much more flexibility — to care for my home (which I manage solo) and my kids (same, except for every other weekend) … Of course, the trade-off is I have to worry about how I’ll afford to replace the roof. I can live with that much more than the alternative. Most single mothers don’t have the choice, and deserve substantial assistance and attention, in myriad forms.
The loss of a community raising our kids, grandmas and aunts and cousins in and out the door on a daily basis, is something I think about constantly. I really grieve it, though I’ve never even experienced for myself. It would surely enrich my life and ease its burdens.
On a happier note, I do believe this youngest generation (our 8th graders, my kids) will help change the tide. How, I look forward to seeing. Thank you for raising the topic with your students — every bit of consideration matters!
Paul – there is so much to consider here; I marvel at your skill for organizing information and presenting it in fluid prose that is both accessable and lofty at once. So many contributory variables that you mention are valid, but the one that struck me the most is the loss of multigenerational families. Something priceless and hugely significant was lost when we – as a culture – began to live separately from our elders. At best it is a tremendous loss of untapped knowledge for future generations, and at worst it is accompanied by the heartbreak of lonliness for the aged. Thank you for tackling a formidable topic with finesse, as always.
Thank you so much as always, Deb. You and I have many similar thoughts on these matters. We see so many missed opportunities for children. Sadly they lie before our very eyes and we (collectively) ignore them.