Are Millennial Women Finally Getting Paid The Same As Their Male Peers?

Twenty-something women are asking for—and getting—higher wages. But there's still a long way to go in changing the culture of the workplace, both within and outside of the white-collar world.

Last week, the Pew Research Center published some news that appeared to be of the good kind: Millennial women are finally closing the gender wage gap.

Pew revealed that in 2012, the median hourly wage for women came out to 84% of men's, while as recently as 1980, women had only reached 64%. But millennial women in particular were making larger strides, while millennial men were making slightly smaller ones; in 2012, millennial women made 93% as much as their male peers on the hour.

Source: Pew Research

And yet, millennial women aren’t fully satisfied with the results. Three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that the country needed to do more to bring about workplace equality. Only 57% of millennial men concurred.

In some ways, the working environment for women is better than ever. As Pew points out, women are outpacing men in college enrollment, and have worked our way into highly skilled, high-paying professions in force. But at the same time, several inequalities persist. Studies have shown that women either ask for raises less often than men, or when they do, they're still held behind. Pew also wonders what will happen to women once they reach an age at which they want to have children—will the gap widen? Then, there's also the larger working environment outside of white-collar gigs to consider, which may still be eons behind the times.

There's a lot of conflicting information out there about women asking for raises. One oft-cited tome on the subject, by Carnegie Mellon and Harvard University researchers Linda Babcock and Sarah Laschever, cites some troubling statistics about women in the business world. Babcock found that there was a 7.6% difference in starting salaries of male and female MBAs, and likely due to the fact that the vast majority of women didn't to negotiate. (More than half of men, they found, did negotiate, with success.)

Other research claims the opposite conclusion. When two researchers from Catalyst, a nonprofit supported by major multi-national corporations, tracked more than 1,660 MBA graduates they had identified as "high potential" over the last decade, they found that women, just as much as men, aspired to become CEOs or reach managerial positions. They also found that women, even when doing the negotiating or shifting jobs, saw slower compensation growth than men who did the same.

A couple of anecdotes to illustrate both phenomena: As a millennial woman, I will never forget the look on one male boss’s face one of the first times I’ve ever asked for a raise. He had been a real mentor to me, and I worked my ass off in gratitude. I was extremely young, working full-time, and for significantly less than I probably deserved. I received raises in rank and responsibility, but not in cash. After a year, I decided I needed to figure out a better way to feed myself than by periodically asking my parents to send boxes of Trader Joe's macaroni to my apartment.

I was very polite, ingratiating even. But it was a no-go. The next time I was asked to throw out a new desired salary, I decided to call guru and writerly confidante of female journalists, Ann Friedman. We spent at least half an hour going over what kinds of figures would be reasonable, and once I had enough sourcing from those in similar positions in the industry, how I’d pitch. I’d present my number as the culmination of thorough reporting (like it was), and speak slowly, rationally, without an inch of "I deserve!" in my tone. When I tried it on my new boss, there was a second-long pause. "Sold!" he said.

Women are succeeding in the workplace at an unprecedented rate. But the fact remains that many formerly male-dominated industries were designed with built-in biases. Women were simply excluded at the time those institutions’ DNAs were coded. As a result, as much as our society has changed, the friction and dysfunction persist. We’re learning the language of asking for what we deserve, though even when we speak it fluently, it can come as a surprise, or cast us in a negative light.

It’s also impossible to look at the millennial earning phenomenon in a vacuum. Outside the world of white-collar labor, service industry jobs are growing, but wages are stagnant. Some 70% of the service industry is female, and they represent some of the most exploited workers in the country. If you're earning minimum wage, or below minimum wage at $90 a week, and spend 35% of your earnings on child care, there's not much "living up to your potential" or "breaking through the glass ceiling" to be had: There's just surviving.

Nearly three-quarters of public assistance benefits go to the already-working poor. Because their industries pay them so little, they're forced to rely on government. In October, a blockbuster study from the University of California-Berkeley revealed that this was the case for 52% of fast-food workers nationwide.

Some hope that the effects of high-powered, wealthy women who Lean In will eventually trickle down to the masses, but there's some reason to be skeptical of that assumption. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sits on the board of Walmart, which recently received a bellyful of bad press not just for its maintenance of low-wages, but for a donation bin in an Ohio store for its poverty-stricken workers. More than half of Walmart's 1.3 million employees are female.

It's not all bad news: Walmart recently issued a promising new platform for women entrepreneurs. Then again, that was only after a massive, but dismissed, class action gender discrimination suit dominated headlines in 2011. Meanwhile, Walmart, Sears, Children's Place, and other American retailers have refused to compensate the victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, where more than 1,200 workers, the majority of them women, died as a result of poor working conditions.

Leaning in is part of, but not necessarily a comprehensive solution to, these ills. So should millennial women shut up and be placated about working equality? There's still a long way to go, within and outside of white-collar labor. It's no wonder that 75% of us are working our asses off for more.

[Image: Business woman via Shutterstock]

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  • MaleMatters

    What does the gender wage gap mean when you consider:

    Probably most women's pay-equity advocates think employers are greedy profiteers who'd hire only illegal immigrants for their lower labor cost if they could get away with it. Or move their business to a cheap-labor country to save money. Or replace older workers with younger ones for the same reason. So why do these same advocates think employers would NOT hire only women if, as they say, employers DO get away with paying females at a lower rate than males for the same work?

    Here's one of countless examples showing that some of the most sophisticated women in the country choose to earn less while getting paid at the same rate as their male counterparts:

    “In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/03/... (See also http://www.openmarket.org/2013...

    A thousand laws won't close that gap.

    In fact, no law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap - tinyurl.com/74cooen), not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not the 1991 Glass Ceiling Commission created by the Civil Rights Act, not the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the thousands of company mentors for women, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is another feel-good bill that turned into another do-nothing law (good intentions do not necessarily make things better; sometimes, the path to a worse condition is paved with good intentions).... Nor will a "paycheck fairness" law work.

    That's because women's pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women's equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier....” at tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed a higher percentage of women is staying at home, perhaps it's because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they're going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Answer: Because they're supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home. (Far more wives are supported by a spouse than are husbands.)

    The implication of this is probably obvious to most 12-year-olds but seems incomprehensible to, or is wrongly dismissed as irrelevant by, feminists and the liberal media: If millions of wives are able to accept NO wages, millions of other wives, whose husbands' incomes vary, are more often able than husbands to:

    -accept low wages

    -refuse overtime and promotions

    -choose jobs based on interest first, wages second — the reverse of what men tend to do (The most popular job for American women as of 2010 is still secretary/administrative assistant, which has been a top ten job for women for the last 50 years. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

    -take more unpaid days off

    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)

    -work fewer hours than their male counterparts, or work less than full-time instead of full-time (as in the above example regarding physicians)

    Any one of these job choices lowers women's median pay relative to men's. And when a wife makes one of the choices, her husband often must take up the slack, thereby increasing HIS pay.

    Women who make these choices are generally able to do so because they are supported — or, if unmarried, anticipate being supported — by a husband who feels pressured to earn more than if he'd chosen never to marry. (Married men earn more than single men, but even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap: as a group they tend more than women to pass up jobs that interest them for ones that pay well.

    More in "Will the Ledbetter Act Help Women?" at http://malemattersusa.wordpres...