The “Gender Wage Gap” and Social Work


You’ve probably heard of the gender wage gap. The figure represents the difference between the average wage of women and the average wage of men, usually expressed as some variation on the idea that women earn around 75 cents for every dollar that men do. The figure has come to represent what some say is ongoing inequality in employment opportunity in the Western world.

The figure itself is actually somewhat complicated. Typically, the numbers are expressed without normalizing for factors like time in the workforce, jobs worked, and so on. In other words, the raw numbers exclude certain important details. This includes the fact that men tend to work longer hours (arguably because they have more freedom to do so) and that they tend to work more dangerous, higher-paying jobs on average. Stated differently, the wage gap is really an “earnings gap.” Men do earn more money than women do but, on the whole, it’s because they work longer at higher-paying jobs.

Advocates for equalizing the gender wage gap counter that this does not explain the difference fully. They explain, for example, that part of the reason women make different employment choices is because they don’t feel welcome in those higher paying jobs. For example, just many women who graduate college and university with STEM degrees tend to leave their careers, often to have children. It may be the case that some of those leaving these careers are leaving because they don’t feel welcome in male-dominated fields.

Interestingly, however, there are some jobs that tend to pay women more than men or, again stated differently, jobs in which women are currently earning more money on average than their male counterparts. Maurie Backman in The Motley Fool reports that “there are a number of industries where women tend to do better than men,” and she cites social work as her first example.

“Though becoming a social worker typically requires a certain set of credentials or a degree,” Backman writes, “there’s a pay gap in this arena, and it benefits women. Female social workers earn close to 8% more than male social workers, on average, so that for every dollar a male social worker makes, a woman will get $1.08. …No matter what industry you work in, as a female employee, it’s critical to understand how your compensation stacks up with respect to your male counterparts. Though many people like to chalk the wage gap up to a mere media fabrication, there’s a ton of data out there validating the claim that women traditionally earn less than men.”

What do you think? Is the “wage gap” a very real concern? Are you earning more than you might otherwise because you chose the social work profession? Or is there some other angle from which to view this issue? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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