David Cay Johnston

Underpaid women and their men

October 28, 2011

alpha-2-medNew data on US incomes, poverty, pensions and philanthropy all show a common economic reality — women are still getting shortchanged. Do men care?

Men’s median total income in 2010 was $1.54 for each dollar women received, my analysis of new US Census data shows. The median — half make more, half less — was $32,137 a year for men, $20,831 for women.

Ignoring investment and other income, at the median men were paid $1.29 to the dollar earned by women in 2010. Men made $47,715 a year, women $36,931, a difference of $207 per week.

Among nonprofit executives and managers, men make much more than women in the same occupations.

Women run a majority of organisations with budgets under $1 million, but as budgets grow the ranks of women shrink. At nonprofits with budgets of $50 million or more, only one in six is run by a woman and as a group those women are paid 25 percentage points less than men, according to the 11th annual nonprofit pay study by Guidestar, a project I long ago urged on its founder.

All of which raises a question: Why do men, especially married men, put up with this? Why aren’t men in the vanguard of demanding equal pay for women?

It is unfair to the women they love. Viewed in purely selfish terms, pay discrimination limits a family’s resources.

And what about fringe benefits? Many couples lose the value of a second health or other benefit plan because plans designed in a one-income era are often incompatible with one another.

TWO GENERATIONS

We have been through two generations since women began to break out of the narrow list of white-collar occupations readily open to them — teacher, nurse, librarian, secretary.

Some women now work in better paid blue-collar jobs that long had a 100 percent male quota, including machinist, mechanic and stevedore.

The first women who fought to become cops are now retired, some with granddaughters patrolling the streets. Women captain jetliners, while men serve coffee to passengers. My wife runs a quarter-billion-dollar charitable endowment, the kind of job she was bluntly told three decades ago a woman would never hold.

While the pay gap has narrowed some, the official data still show that whether they are sales clerks or CEOs, servers or surgeons, women overall make less than men doing the same work.

Yet women are still more likely than men to be poor, especially in old age, the new census data show. Among single women, one in nine lives in extreme poverty with income below half of the poverty line.

Before Ms. magazine was a gleam in Gloria Steinem’s eye, men had quite a deal. Married middle-class men often controlled the purse while enjoying the pleasures of a full-time homemaker who might work a few hours here and there for “pin money” they could spend on themselves. Mothers of small children seldom worked full-time.

EXTRA MONEY AT A PRICE

Married couples with children in 2009 worked 492 more hours than in 1979, a 15 percent increase, census data analysed by the Economic Policy Institute shows. The extra money comes at a price: less time for the joys of parenting, coupling and community engagement.

Why have men quietly given up all those perks, and the power that goes along with being sole breadwinner, for three-quarters of an extra paycheck? For fathers, that can mean half an extra paycheck or less once childcare costs are covered.

Since most men’s wages have been flat to falling it takes two incomes to get by. IRS data show that average income in 2009 was back at the 1997 level when inflation was taken into account. In 2010 median household income fell again, new census data show.

The women’s movement encouraged self-reliance — not being dependent on the goodwill and good health of a husband — as well as self-realisation. Equal pay for equal work was central.

The price of pay discrimination stalks retirement, too, since less pay means less in old age. Among Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom are now 47, single women have a retirement savings shortfall nearly twice that of single men, the Employee Benefits Research Institute estimated.

Among men age 65 or older, median income in 2009 was $25,409, two-thirds more than the $15,209 median for women, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee reported in April. Retired men averaged nearly twice as much from pensions as women.

Married men and fathers can help close these economic chasms. Will self-interest motivate us to challenge enduring economic discrimination against our wives and sisters, our mothers and daughters? Or will the gender income and pay gaps still be around two generations from now?

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David Cay Johnston is a Reuters columnist.

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One Response to “ Underpaid women and their men ”

  1. Rafique Islam on October 29, 2011 at 11:59 am

    It is a nice article raising nice questions. My guess is that the article is written for the American audience. The world is not flat and condition and opportunities for women are not same everywhere.
    While I was studying planning in Norway during the 80’s, I visited many corporations and found most board of directors were almost equally man and women. There was a law requiring such effort at equality.

    Back in the USA, I lived in Dallas to find educated folks boasting how women in USA are better than anywhere else since they are taken care of. They do not have to work hard and take undue responsibilities.

    By their logic, women in Saudi Arabia are the most blessed — not having to work outside the home. My daughter went to buy chicken sandwich at a take-out restaurant in Saudi Arabia and they would not serve her. There were no women servers and as such no service for her.

    What a world we live in! Your article does not address the more complex situation in various cultures and countries. As far as USA is concerned, women are not going to be equally paid or equally employed any time soon.

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