The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2016 women in New York State made only 86 percent of what men earn, according to report released on Oct. 16. This report contributes to the discussion centering nation-wide on the disparities in gender pay, including in Geneseo and Western New York.
The report specifically found that the median weekly earnings for men is $975, compared to the median weekly earnings for women, which is $840. This newest pay gap percentage represents a slight rise in women’s earnings, as women’s earnings as percentage of men’s was approximately 80 percent in 1997, according to the BLS. The dialogue over this disparity has been of concern for decades, according to associate professor of history Catherine Adams.
“It’s a perennial challenge,” Adams said. “Historically, some of the arguments in favor of it were that women’s income represented a supplementary income for family whereas male income was the primary source of income for a family. One of the other ways that people have tried to explain the disparity has been to say that women don’t tend to go into professions that pay more money, but we know from looking at the statistics that men and women in the same profession will be paid differently, with women being paid less.”
The issue of unequal pay is multifaceted and is influenced by a variety of factors, ranging from issues of employer discrimination, men’s confidence in asking for a raise and the expected contribution of mothers to parental care, according to assistant professor of philosophy Amanda Roth.
“There’s a lot of structural things that are going on that contribute to this,” Roth said, “There’s a kind of penalty women face in terms of the birth process, then needing time off and then also being more likely to take on a primary caregiving role, where that could affect it.”
Businesses might also lack transparency in providing access to information regarding salaries of fellow employees. Despite that difficulty for some workers, Geneseo and New York State do not have salary confidentiality, according to professor of art history Lynette Bosch-Burroughs. Faculty members could find out what others make if they request the information from the Geneseo chapter of the SUNY-wide United University Professions union, Bosch-Burroughs said.
The existence of labor unions also helps to provide assistance to female faculty regarding issues of unequal pay, according to Adams.
“Recently there was some attention to that issue here at Geneseo in the academic professions,” Adams said. “It’s not a done deal, but we’re lucky that we have a union. It’s worse for people who don’t have the backing of national organizations or who don’t have the means or the skills to fight for fairer wages.”
The concern regarding wage disparities also affects women of color differently than white women and men, according to Roth. Roth pointed to how among women, white women’s median earnings tend to be higher than non-white women’s, while white men have the highest median earnings of any other demographic group.
CAS worker sophomore Clara Gallagher voiced her discontent with this internal division in the statistics that people often overlook.
“The first thing that always makes me extremely angry is this 86 percent only counts towards white women like me, and then it only gets worse when you look at minority, like Hispanic women only make 64 cents to the dollar,” Gallagher said. “There have been bills to work on these things, but none of them get passed. I think there are people who are definitely doing a lot to help the situation, but I think overall our government and Geneseo aren’t really doing enough.”
Gallagher pointed to other initiatives that institutions should focus on that would help women make up for additional gender-based costs.
“One thing to just help women is to provide more free healthcare, free reproductive services,” Gallagher said. “Geneseo offers free condoms, I think we can also offer free tampons.”
Historical trends have shown that women’s wages have remained stagnant, and instead men’s wages have continued to decrease with the recent economic crises, according to Adams.
“You might not think it’ll affect you because you’re male or because you’re highly educated or because you have access to [high-paying] positions through family connections,” Adams said. “But regardless you’re going to be in the workforce and you’ll probably have a family or a spouse who you’ll want to have commensurate wages, so the issue is really important.”
News editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.u