Equal Pay Day and Unpaid Labor


Happy Equal Pay Day!! Equal Pay Day marks how far into 2017 women have to work (on average) to earn what men earned in 2017. To celebrate, I am going to share a story.

The Data

Though, before I get to my story, let’s talk briefly about the data behind the whole gender pay gap issue. Equal Pay Day is based on the idea that women make somewhere around 79 cents for every dollar men make. This statistic is cited all the time, though most articles do not include a source. However, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find that this data appears to (roughly) come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports data collected from the Current Population Survey, which is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Current Population Survey collects data from 60,000 households across the U.S., and the data that is used to compare men’s and women’s income is collected from one quarter of those 60,000 households. It is supposed to be statically valid and all that, but we are talking about self-reported data collected from 15,000 households. Also, the data does not include income from part-time employees (working less than 35 hours a week) and self-employed workers. So, without diving into the complex world of data collection statistics, I think it’s fair to say interpreting this data is complicated – it’s definitely a bit of stretch to say it provides us with the full picture.

Now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics aren’t the only ones with data on wages. Glassdoor studied this issue, and they found that there was a 24% wage gap in the United States. They also found that when you compare men and women with the same job title, at the same company, and with similar education and experience, the wage gap still exists (though, it’s only 5%). Another company, Hired, found that women are offered, on average, 3% less than men to do the same job (and in some industries, the difference was as high as 30%).

So, there was all that. Then, you can take this data and make it far more complicated. Things like age and race and ethnicity all impact the wage gap.

So, Is There A Wage Gap?

Well, it’s definitely not accurate to simply say women make 79 cents for every dollar men make.Though, the evidence does show that there is a wage gap. However, defining it much further really gets into to how you want to frame your arguement – there can be a lot of “flexibility” depending on what data you are using and how you want to contextualize your argument.

Truthfully, the simplest answer is that the evidence does show that there is a wage gap, but it’s complicated, and that is as far down that rabbit hole as I am interested in going.

Alright, back to my story.

Life Is Not Fair, Especially at Dairy Queen

I will never forget the moment I was told that I was making less money than my male counterparts solely because I was a woman. I worked at Dairy Queen though high school, and overall it was a great job – I learned a lot about running a small business and about the power of a strong work-ethic. I got to work with my friends and “worked my way up”. I started earning $6.50 an hour (this was 2003), and when I left to go to college I was making between $12 and $15 an hour, depending on which shift and location I was working.


Kelly, at age 16

One year, around raise time, I remember learning that while I got a 50 cent raise (standard), one of my male co-workers was getting a $1 raise (and he had just received another “special” raise a few months before this). This co-worker regularly showed up late, was not trusted to count the registers and under performed in all the tasks he was asked to do. We were the same age and had the same experience (none). I supervised this individual on many shifts, and yet he would be getting paid more than me. Why? I did not understand.

I asked my boss about this, and he told point blank that he needed to pay the guys more than he paid the girls because the guys could go find higher paying jobs elsewhere. In order to keep some of them at the store, he needed to pay them more – but could not afford to simply pay everyone more. In fact, he said he would have been happy to give me (and some of my other female co-workers) larger raises, but that money had to go to the guys. So yes, I was told that my coworker would be paid more than me solely because he was a guy. And that was that.

I was 16. I didn’t know that was illegal. I was grateful to have a job that was flexible enough to also allow me to participate in my extra circular activities. I simply filed this little story away in the “life is not fair” category and went about my life. I don’t know what happened to that coworker – and frankly I don’t care. My former boss passed away in 2007 – in his late twenties or early thirties.

I now work in a female-dominated industry – 81% of my co-workers are female. I have no idea if I would get paid more in my current role if I was a man. I know my husband makes more than me, but he works in an industry that pays more than mine so it’s not a logical comparison. Truthfully, I’m privileged – my salary is not something I find myself thinking about often. However, it still feels important to share this story. It has at least a small place in the conversation.

The Unpaid Labor Issue

Now, while we are talking about all this it is important to keep in mind that it is not as simple as equal pay for equal work. We should also talk about the unpaid work gap – time poverty, as some are calling. Melinda Gates summarizes this whole issue nicely in the Gates Foundation Annual Letter (scroll down to More Time).

Unpaid work is what it says it is: its work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. You can think of unpaid work as falling into three main categories: cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and the elderly.

Now, this work has to be done by somebody. But it’s overwhelmingly women who are expected to do it, for free, whether they want to or not.

This holds true in every single country in the world. Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work. Men spend less than half that much time. But the fact is that the burden of unpaid work falls heaviest on women in poor countries, where the hours are longer and the gap between women and men is wider. In India, to take one example, women spend about 6 hours, and men spend less than 1 hour.

This issue impacts (most) women (and some men), though overwhelming, this is an issue for women in poor counties. It highlights the stark gender gaps that are still experienced in third world countries – though it is important to remember that these gaps hold true in every single country in the world.

Certainly, talking about the gender gaps in poor countries makes my concerns about my Dairy Queen job seem silly – though they are not. Knowing that someone, somewhere has it worst than we do can not fix our problems – it is not an answer. Instead, it is a place for conversation. Not only are working women paid less, we also (often) do more of the unpaid labor as well. Why?

In my household, part of that why is simple. I do most of the cooking because I work eight hour days and my husband works ten to twelve. The means I have more “spare” time in my day to cook dinner, so I (usually) do just that. For us, it’s not about fair or unfair, it’s about logic. However, is it strictly about logic for every household? And if it is, how does that logic factor into this wage gap conversation?

It’s Not Just About One Issue

We should, as a society, talk about the wage gap. We should also talk about why women are leaving the workforce in greater numbers than men, and why there is a glass ceiling. We should talk about the unpaid labor gap. We should talk about how some things will never be fair, and how we have to be OK with that. We should talk about how we value women, and how we may value them differently than we value men. We should talk about why. We should talk about how we, as a society, could re-engineer our modern world to meet our economic demands, while also promoting our collective quality of life.

Let's talk about it, shall we?

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