Will Work for Free: Let's talk about the gender wage gap in Missouri

You go to work each day, you solve problems, you complete tasks, you devote your time, talent and ingenuity to advance your company. You give it your best, 12 months out of the year. But for two and a half months, you're not paid for it.

It might sound ridiculous -- after all, when it gets down to it, earning a living is the reason we keep jobs -- but for the average woman in Southeast Missouri, this is her reality.

Here is our reality: Missouri clocked in at 38th place out of 51 -- including all 50 states and the District of Columbia -- according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) in 2018, the most recent data available. Business.org used this data to compare the earnings -- including job wages plus salary -- of men and women by evaluating the difference in percentage points between women's earnings as a percentage of men's earnings. Then they ranked each state in order of the difference to see which states pay women most justly.

This graphic from Business.org depicts the wage gap between males and females with each level of education; the smallest wage gap exists when women make 69.18% of what men make with some college or associateís degrees. The largest wage gap exists when women make 63.89% of what men make with less education than a high school diploma.

This is what the data look like: the median earnings for men ages 16+ in 2018 was $49,109. For women? $38,414. This means that women in Missouri, on average, earn 78.2% of what men earn. Thus, women in Missouri will stop working for pay and begin working for their employers for free on average on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in comparison to their male coworkers.

The silver lining is that the gap between what women and men earn in Missouri lessened by 1.4 percentage points from 2010 to 2018. Progress is being made.

But not nearly fast enough. Take this in comparison with Missouri's southern neighbor Arkansas, the state that made the most improvement in 2018 by closing the gap by 10.5 percentage points. In the state of Arkansas, women now make 85% of what men make, only three percentage points behind California and New York, the states with the smallest gender wage gap in the country. By comparison, Missouri is only eight percentage points ahead of the states with the largest pay gap: Louisiana, Wyoming and West Virginia, states in which women make only 70 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

This graphic from Business.org depicts the average amount of money women make in comparison to men in each U.S. state; on average, women in Missouri earn $0.78 for every dollar a man earns.

While some might point to the fact that women often choose to go into fields with lower-paying salaries, that misses the point. While of course we must foster ways for women to break into and excel in higher-paying, male-dominated fields, we must also address the root question of why work in female-dominated fields is valued less by our society both monetarily and often attitudinally than jobs performed mostly by men. And once we address that question personally, as a community and as a society, we must work to find previously unimagined solutions to remedy it. For example, in 2017, the United Kingdom passed legislation that dictated companies with 250 or more employees had to open their payroll books and publish their gender pay gap reporting. If the thought of that makes you nervous, perhaps it's time to do something about it.

But how did we get here in the first place? One way to understand this could be to look from where we've come. While the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries made unprecedented strides in creating a capitalist economy that improved the quality of life for many people within the western world, as with all things, there were winners and losers. In one way of viewing it, women fared as losers. In "Women and the Rise of the Novel: A Feminist-Marxist Theory," scholar Josephine Donovan purports that the Industrial Revolution converted our economy from one of exchange value in which people -- often women -- made items to be directly consumed by people they knew and loved with no monetary exchange involved into one of exchange value, in which goods were produced with the intent of selling or bartering in a relationship where emotional ties were not present. Thus, the relationship between artisan and user was eroded, with emphasis placed less on the person making or receiving the item and more on the amount of money that could be made from the item. The machines men created took the economic power of creating as artisans from women, making women and the work they did easily reproduced and therefore replaceable. Rather than the women whose labor was depended upon to run textile machines, for instance, the men who had the buying power, educational opportunities to study business and connections in the business world now made the bulk of the profits. In refashioning our economic system from one of use value to one of exchange value, men successfully took the power to contribute uniquely and purposefully to a family, community and society from women and asked women to play the men's game in order to survive. Perhaps this is one way the work women do came to be devalued.

Of course, another way to look at this is to say that through industrialization, men created opportunities for women to enter into the economy as wage earners. Despite the fact that women were exploited by being paid lower wages than men doing the same jobs, this was indeed the first time women in mass scales entered the public workforce in legal ways, whereas before, women, because of unequal educational, property-owning and asset-owning opportunities had mainly three options: to marry a man who could support her, to join a convent or to sell her body in order to make her own money. In addition, with the creation of public education around this time and schools opening to both male and female students, the teaching profession became female-dominated. Although few could argue the necessity of the Industrial Revolution in greatly improving the quality of life in the western world or the fact that we have made many strides in gender equality since that time, we must inquire into the residual affects of the disparity in opportunities between women and men from this lackluster beginning and ask in what ways we still subconsciously carry on this legacy through attitudes and practices that we have inherited from that time.

Today, as has been the case historically, there are many factors that contribute to the gender wage gap, says Dr. Rebecca Summary, professor of economics at Southeast Missouri State University.

"I'm not sure there's really a simple answer to that question. These types of issues are always more complicated than they seem at first glance," Summary says. "A lot of folks, of course, want to point to discrimination, and indeed, I think many of the studies have shown that does exist to some degree, in a variety of ways. Technically, it's illegal to pay someone a different wage or salary for the exact same job title, but there's other ways that you can get around that by changing job descriptions and those kinds of things."

Summary says one factor most surely not contributing to the gender pay gap like it did 40 to 50 years ago is education level; now, more than half (57%) of the people who earn bachelor's degrees are women. The irony is that although the amount of money a woman earns with each degree increases, the gender wage gap, too, gets wider: women with professional degrees make only 67.6% of what men with professional degrees make, with the gap being the least at 69.18% when women and men have an associate degree or some college.

Here, Summary unpacks in her own words edited for length and clarity the layers of this issue for B Magazine readers. These, she says, are five reasons the wage gap currently exists in the U.S.:

#1: On average, women do more housework and care taking of children and elderly parents, work that is unpaid.

"I think just about any woman would recognize that women do more unpaid family work. And there's lots of data out there from the Census Bureau from a study that they do called the American Time Use Survey, and I'll just give you one example: they have data from all kinds of categories of families -- single, married, retired, working, working part-time, that kind of thing. I looked at married men with small children in the home that were working full-time versus women with small children in the home that were working full-time, and the data shows that for men in that category, there's an average of about 13 hours per week versus 20 for the women.

"The fact of the matter is, women do more of that sort of unpaid household work, and as a result of that, that may affect the kinds of career paths that women choose. They oftentimes prefer more flexibility in their hours; they maybe might work less than full-time on occasion because of family obligations and such. Women tend to be more of the caretakers should an elderly parent or whoever need help. And whether that's right or wrong, the fact of the matter is that's just sort of societal norms. So that's one factor -- women look for different things in a job that affects their earnings."

#2: With each child a woman has, her earnings decrease, while for each child a man has, his earnings increase.

"A few years ago, there was a study done by the OECD, which is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in mostly Western Europe, the United States and Canada, those kinds of countries, that found there was actually a negative impact of having children upon women's earnings. I can't quote the exact figure, but it was a significant amount, something like 7% for each child that you have. But on the other hand, for men, having children seemed to increase their earnings. And so that's sort of an interesting result that I'm not sure I can explain except to say that women tend to be the caretakers more. And again, whether that's right or wrong, it just seems to be the case, and it could be another explanation for why women earn less."

#3: Occupational segregation monetarily rewards male-dominated work while reward for female-dominated work is lower as reflected in the salaries within traditionally female fields.

"Occupational segregation is a very broad term, and that simply means where women take jobs versus men. Pay often reflects the riskiness of a job or how unpleasant it is or how physically demanding it is. And so take the construction industry, for example. Only 10% of construction workers are female, but many of those occupations -- pipe fitters, plumbers, electricians -- are unionized, and so they tend to earn more per hour than non-unionized workers. And so that's another factor. And again, why are there not more women? I did a little research on that; there doesn't seem to be any real clear indicators except again, it's just kind of that societal norm. It's just not something that women often choose. That could change -- and I think it has changed a bit over time -- but nevertheless, that's another factor."

#4: Occupational segregation leads to a lack of female role models and instructors in high-paying fields.

"If you look at starting salaries for different college majors, the two biggest are engineering and computer science. That's where the two highest starting salaries are. Engineering's about $70,000 nationwide that you start out with right out of college. Computer science is not much below that, about $68,000. And then math and science careers, $63,000. And those are the three highest general areas.

"But then if you look at women, only 20% of engineering degrees are awarded to women, and 18% of computer science degrees are awarded to women. Now again, why is that? Again, I read a lot on the engineering part of it, and part of it of course is just simply a lack of female instructors in the field. And that's a self-perpetuating sort of thing. Very few women have PhDs in engineering and teach in engineering. So there's lack of mentorship, lack of visibility of women in the career; women drop out of the STEM fields at a much higher rate than men do. In education, I think we're trying to do things to encourage more women to go into those fields with summer institutes for women in the STEM fields and other kinds of things, but that's going to take a little time. You know, when you've only got 20% of women earning engineering degrees, it's going to take a while.

"On the other hand, starting salary for teachers in Missouri is $32,000 a year, and that's where women tend to be concentrated. There's a lot more women in K-12 education. In Missouri, the data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says $49,000 is the average salary of a teacher in Missouri, and that's about $10,000 less than the national [teacher's salary] average. So there you have that issue.

"I can't explain why teachers' salaries are so low. $32,000 isn't a lot of money at all for a family to live off of. You can't, really. You know, funding for education is always an issue, whether it's higher education or K-12. There's always big debates. And higher education's gotten major cuts over the years from all state governments, Missouri being one. I haven't looked as closely at the K-12 levels, but I know that they've struggled in the past, too, and teachers even have to sometimes buy their own supplies in K-12, which is really crazy.

"And again, that's part of this whole occupational segregation idea that women are concentrated in lower-paying positions, and so the question is, are they lower-paying positions because they're female, or are they lower-paying positions for some other reason? And that's kind of like a "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" kind of question. Clearly, of course, you've got the flexibility if you're teaching K-12 if you have children and they're off school in the summer and you're at least sort of off school -- you're doing work, you're preparing, those kinds of things -- but you still have free time. So that's a part of it."

#5: Women are severely underrepresented in chief financial officer and chief operating officer roles, positions that often feed into chief executive officer (CEO) positions.

"If you look at CEOs, chief executive officer positions of those Fortune 500 companies, about 5% of the CEOs are women. And if you look at all of the senior executive positions like chief financial officers, chief operating officers, that's only about 25%, and those positions oftentimes feed into the CEO positions, and so the women just simply aren't in line to get those jobs. And part of that is lack of role models, lack of mentors, but it's also the Good Ol' Boy Network that prevails in many of these major corporations where women just simply aren't groomed for those positions in many cases. So you don't see women at the top, either. I think the same thing is true with university presidents. I didn't look that up, but I think that's a very low number, as well. So you've got a lack of women in powerful positions combined with occupational segregation that leads to women earning less.

Since the gender wage gap exists due to these factors, Summary also shared how our region stacks up compared with the rest of the state of Missouri and ways we can work to change this. Here are her thoughts, which have again been edited for length and clarity:

In Southeast Missouri specifically, do you see these factors being the same as what they are nationally, or are there different factors here in this region?

"In the eighth congressional district [which includes rural Southeast Missouri, South Central Missouri and some counties in Southwest Missouri], women earn 77% of what men earn. But in the first congressional district [which includes all of St. Louis City and much of northern St. Louis County], and the fifth congressional district [which includes the inner ring of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, including nearly all of Kansas City south of the Missouri River and stretching east to Marshall, Missouri], women earned 84% [of what men earn]. It's not a huge difference, but nevertheless, it's a difference. So the pay gap does seem to be bigger in the southern part of Missouri versus the city areas. Part of it is, of course, the kinds of jobs that are available. Maybe there's more opportunities in urban areas for women to move up and for them to get a better foothold in jobs that have a good future and increased earning potential. Other than the rural-urban differentials, maybe there are more traditional views of women in rural versus urban areas. I don't know; I'm not a sociologist, so I'm just speculating in terms of that."

Can we trust the statistics? Are they manipulated in any way? Are they accurate? Sometimes people make the argument that you can't trust these statistics.

"Well the statistics that I have are starting salaries for male versus female, and these come from the Census Bureau. Now obviously, anytime you have self-reported data, there's a possibility that people don't tell the truth, and so you're always going to have a margin of error in any statistics that you have, but when you see the kind of gaps that you do [there's no denying there is a gender pay gap]. Here's an example: starting salaries -- and this data is from 2018 -- starting salaries for people with a high school education who were 18 to 24 years of age was $25,000 for men, $18,000 for women. With a bachelor's degree, it was $38,000 for men and $32,000 for women. And that goes all the way through PhDs. Interestingly enough, it actually even gets wider. Female PhDs earn $103,000 and male PhDs, $146,000."

What factors go into that? Women are earning more in general with each advanced degree that they earn, but the pay gap also widens between genders as education levels get more advanced.

"It widens at the professional level, too. Part of that is again, I think, the fields that women go into. If you're in any of the STEM areas, you're going to be making more money as a college professor, for example, and you're going to have all kinds of opportunities in the private sector -- labs in science and research and biomedical areas and those kinds of things that you're not going to have with a PhD [in traditionally-female fields]. So that's a difference. This occupational segregation is going to take place there.

"I can only speak to Southeast Missouri State University, and I know that they've done a number of studies in equity adjustments at our university in the past 30 years or so and have attempted to see if within a discipline a woman was earning less than a male, and if they were, that was corrected. But across disciplines, those are market forces to some extent. You're not going to pay an entry-level English professor the same as an entry-level engineering professor; it's just not going to happen. So you've got those kinds of factors still going on, even at that higher educational level.

"And again, I'm not discounting that there's discrimination involved in this whole process. But that's much more difficult to quantify and to measure. But I'm sure it exists."

What can employers do to lessen the pay gap?

"It seems to me like the best thing they can do is make more opportunities available to women in terms of being able to move up the corporate ladder. Mentorship programs, making sure that women have the same opportunities to network and further educational training if those are available to make sure that we have equal opportunities. Because women can obviously perform just as well as men if they're given the opportunity to do so."

What about on a national or societal level? Are there other things we can do as a society to change this?

"Well again, I think this attempt to try and encourage women to broaden their career opportunities to look at different majors that they might not have thought of and not confine themselves to female-dominated professions is always a plus. It's a hard thing to do. We're talking about attitudes that are ingrained in people that are hard to change. I'm not an expert on K-12 education, but my understanding from some articles I've read mostly in the popular press is that up until about seventh or eighth grade, girls are pretty much on an equal footing with boys in terms of their interest in science and math, and they do just as well. And then something happens between junior high and high school where all of a sudden, there's this change in many girls' attitudes about what they can do and what they can accomplish in those areas. I haven't done enough reading to really know what's all behind all of that, but that's something that parents can change, as well as teachers, counselors, high school counselors. All those kinds of folks can really lend a hand in encouraging women to stretch themselves and reach for other opportunities.

"You can't really point a finger at one single factor; there seems to be a multitude of factors working here, some of which are going to be slow to change and some which hopefully maybe we can try to change a little faster.

"One other thing that I found interesting from the American Association of University Women: a study showed 10 occupations with the smallest wage gap between men and women and the 10 occupations with the largest wage gap between men and women. Interestingly enough, in the engineering and architecture and sciences and math and so forth, there was a much smaller wage gap between men and women, and those are the occupations that women aren't going into. It doesn't really do a lot of explaining, but it's interesting to look at those."

Lessening the gender pay gap: what can you do?

If you're a man:

Look around the table.

Are you a member of the Good Ol' Boys Club? If in the meetings in which you make decisions everyone looks like you, the answer might be yes. Stop perpetuating it. Bring a woman -- or two or three -- into the decision-making room with you, and take her and her input seriously.

Listen to women.

Ask for women's perspectives and practice deep, open listening that seriously considers what they say. Don't interrupt; it's common courtesy. Give women the same opportunities for advancement and professional development as you give to men with similar qualifications.

Check your biases.

Do you consider women's ideas and concerns as seriously as you consider men's? In your workplace, do you recognize and reward the work women do as much as the work men do? Do you pay women what you would consider a just salary if it were a man with the same qualifications doing the job? Pay attention to your attitudes in the small, day-to-day interactions with your employees or coworkers and ask yourself why you act or react in certain ways with each person. Then, actively work to change any prejudice you might be carrying around with you.

If you're a woman:

Speak up.

Make your expectations for your job clear in the salary you accept and the types of work you perform. If you experience double standards or discrimination, say something. Advocate for yourself -- no one else is going to do it for you.

Take a woman with you.

Remember the people who helped you get to where you are, and be that person for another woman. Offer to bring her into meetings where decisions are being made, ask for her input and consider it.

Mentor a woman.

Offer to mentor a younger female professional in your field. Establishing professional relationships with younger women will help them navigate your field and make connections that could benefit all parties involved.

For all of us:

Vote to support education.

We're the ones paying our teachers. Show that you believe in the importance of the work they do through your vote, your voice and your tax dollars.

Change your thinking.

Stop considering traditionally-female work as less important. Although we may not blatantly do this, we need to check our attitudes and biases in the way we think and speak about this kind of work and the people who do it. We're all part of a system in which we've inherited discriminations that started long before us; let's make sure we don't perpetuate the cycle with the way we think, speak and pay (or don't pay) the people who do these jobs.

Teach your kids.

Although this is changing, women in America are often socialized from the time they are young girls to be quiet and polite and to wait to speak until they are addressed directly or there is a pause in conversation. It begins in some homes, plays out more obviously in classrooms and often continues into the workplace. Teach both your male and female children to speak their minds and to be polite, as well as how to discern when is the time for each. Hold them to the same standards of behavior, and encourage them to consider career fields outside of those traditionally held by their gender.