Realities of a Gender Pay Gap

Despite progress, women are still earning less than men.


April 28, 2007 — -- Evelyn Murphy travels the country teaching women how to get paid as much as men.

The former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts said when she started working 40 years ago, women earned 59 cents on the dollar and they were told they lacked the education and experience men brought to the job.

"All that meritocracy stuff, that's gone," she now counsels young women. "If this were about merit, there shouldn't be any wage gap."

Murphy repeats this mantra again and again as president of the WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) Project, a national organization that aims to end wage discrimination against working women. The club holds meetings in roughly 200 locations around the country and the women who come to hear Murphy speak are both shocked and motivated by her message.

"I definitely was surprised," said Rinn Self, a 28-year-old student of conflict resolution. "Growing up with a woman studies major mom, I definitely had assumed things were getting better…so it was shocking to hear that things have stayed the same for the past, like, 20 years."

Progress toward pay parity has been painfully slow despite women's enormous gains.

Last year women earned 58 percent of the nation's college degrees. And they graduate from law, business and medical school in almost equal number to men.

"I'm very frustrated at where things stand," Murphy said.

Women also clearly pay a price for interrupting their careers -- even briefly -- to have children.

One economist recently calculated the cost of the "Motherhood Penalty" at 7 percent per child.

But the wage gap between men and women starts long before a woman has children. Surprisingly, it often starts right out of college with the very first job.

"Even from the first day of work there's inequity," said Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

A new study by the American Association of University Women blames much of this inequity on discrimination. But Babcock, author of a book called "Women Don't Ask," said her research shows a prime reason women out of college earn just 95 cents for every dollar earned by a man is that they are far less likely to negotiate their pay.

"Very simply, women don't negotiate as much as men," Babcock said.

Take the case of two graduating seniors at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Both are finance majors with good grades and job offers in management consulting. But the man negotiated while the woman did not.

"I wanted a little bit more so I went out and got it," said Sandip Gupta. Imee Chan simply accepted what she was offered.

"I just thought this was what they're going to give me," she said. "I wish I'd asked, I really do now."

Babcock said women are socialized from an early age to accept what they get. "We really teach our girls to be very passive and we teach our boys to go out there and be aggressive," she said.

Whatever the reasons, the pay gap exacts a heavy price on women over the course of a lifetime. According to the WAGE Project, a college-educated working woman will earn $1.2 million less over the course of her career than a college-educated working man.

Murphy tells young women that she wants that fact to "haunt" them. "Because then you're going to do something about it," she said.

For now, this graduating class of women will leave the starting gate -- already behind.

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