Women in the workforce: The gender wage gap explained


MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Georgia College student Chelsey Adams said that when she thinks about women in the workforce, she remembers what her mother told her.

“You have to work twice as hard,” Adams said.

She said that her mom did anything she had to to provide for their family.

“She started out picking peas in a field,” Adams said. “She cleaned houses for a long time. She went to driving buses and cleaning houses at the same time. Any job that she could take basically.”

Adams said that while she plans on going a different route than her mother, becoming a college professor, her mother’s example prepared her for challenges, including pay.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an 18 percent difference between men’s and women’s average weekly earnings in 2016, or for every dollar a man made on average, a woman made 82 cents.

However, assistant economics professor Brooke Conaway at Georgia College said that those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“Attributing it entirely to discrimination would be incorrect,” she said.

She said that those numbers don’t account for hours worked, and full-time could mean anything from 40 to 80 hours a week.

Another factor those averages leave out is the type of job.

Conaway said things like travel required, irregular work hours and job difficulty play into an employee’s wages, and according to a Pew Research Center study women are more likely to cut back.

“Women are more likely to reduce their work hours, to take a significant amount of time off, to even turn down a promotion or even quit their job, compared to men in order to take care of children or even disabled or elderly family members,” Conaway said.

Sociology professor Stephanie McClure said that this trend goes back to a deeper issue: the socialization that both men and women see in childhood.

“Boy toys versus girl toys, it starts that early,” she said, “that you can get a play kitchen that’s pink or a play tool belt that’s black and orange, and there’s pretty good research that sort of established the gendered nature of those things so that women are socialized early on to practice care-giving.”

She said that jobs requiring care-giving have been “gendered” towards females, and even in some female-dominated careers, men can be paid more.

“It seemed like every time that I told people I wanted to be a nurse, they were like, ‘Oh my God, yeah totally. You’re going to make more than what a woman nurse makes because male nurses are so few and far in-between,’” said Cedric Norris, a former nursing major at Georgia College.

“It’s what’s called the glass escalator,” McClure said, “that men are more likely to get promoted in those traditionally female jobs.”

However, she said that the same doesn’t go for women in male-dominated fields.

Even if you adjust for work hours or the type of job, there’s still a difference in men’s and women’s pay.

According to a study published on, there was an average difference of almost $16, 819 between male and female newly-trained physicians in New York between 1999 and 2008. Study authors wrote they “found a significant gender gap that cannot be explained by specialty choice, practice setting, work hours, or other characteristics.”

A more recent study by shows women doctors are paid less in every city in the country and every specialty.

“It’s not simple, it’s structural,” Adams said.

As a future sociology professor, she wants to teach others what McClure has taught her.

“It’s not limited to person-to-person interactions,” Adams said.

McClure said that while our society is changing how it sees gender roles, a lot more has to change before the gender wage gap is closed.

“I think choices about jobs, gender patterns of jobs may become lessened,” she said “but the structure of wages, that’s more difficult to change.”

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