For years, I’ve heard the same statistic about the pay gap between men and women repeated over and over with slight variations: “Women make roughly 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.”
This figure has become well known in the past several years. President Obama used it throughout his reelection campaign and second term. It was even addressed in his fifth State of the Union.
The figure has been used extensively in the past to show the pay gap between men and women, and while it is slightly flawed, it does reflect a very real pattern of de facto wage discrimination.
Last week, Harvard professor Claudia Goldin spoke before an audience in the University of Massachusetts Campus Center on the issue of the pay gap.
Goldin’s view—which is backed by her research—is that the reason for the pay gap is a lack of “temporal flexibility,” otherwise known as the ability to take greater control over how and when you work. She argues that much of the pay gap can be attributed to women having to take time off of their careers in order to raise families.
Goldin has also said that if there were enough men who took time off to raise families, the data would likely show results close to 79 cents on the dollar.
Coincidentally, two days later, the Washington Post published a front page statistical analysis piece on the gender pay gap, arguing that social factors and cultural expectations have combined with discriminatory views to cause women to effectively work for less pay than men.
Goldin, the Post and the countless others who have called out the gender pay gap have the facts on their side. Women absolutely do make less money than men for equal work, and this is largely due to the time many women take away from their careers to raise children.
There are two issues in play here: The first is that many women are forced to fully step away from their careers due to our country’s lack of federally-mandated paid family leave, and the second is that, upon return, women have less flexibility in managing their career and their family.
Many women choose to step away from their career for their families, but as the Washington Post asked in their analysis, is it really a choice? The United States does not have federally-mandated paid family leave, which would allow women to take time off without fear of losing their jobs to start the process of raising a family.
When time off is the “choice” women make, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to return to work, and especially difficult to make up for the wages and pay raises they’ve lost in that time.
Goldin put a name and a definition to the second issue at play—the lack of “temporal flexibility.” Many women have to take time off, are paid less upon return because of that time off and have difficulty balancing their work with their home life due to the lack of flexibility in their jobs.
The United States needs to not only establish a federal paid family leave law, as nearly every country in the world has done, but we need to also make it easier to be both a parent and a worker. North Korea offers 11 weeks of paid maternity leave, Iraq offers nine and Saudi Arabia, who we’re often quick to criticize for their treatment of women, offers 10.
Women are biologically and socially different from men; they’re subject to pregnancy and the cultural expectation that they will raise their children. But that shouldn’t stand in the way of balancing a stable career and a healthy family.
There is a real problem here: Companies may not actively be trying to pay women less, but there sure is little allowance for a woman to take time away and return to work, and there is equally little flexibility for women trying to manage a career and a family.
This is not only a recognizable problem, but it’s a solvable problem as well. We shouldn’t settle for being second to North Korea in anything, let alone a basic right that women everywhere should enjoy.
Will Katcher is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @will_katcher.