According to a new report from the Office for National Statistics by the Resolution Foundation in the U.K., there’s good news and bad news for millennial women diving in to the labor force. The good news is that the pay gap, which was around 16 percent for baby boomers, has dropped to roughly 5 percent for millennial women, aka those born between 1981 and 2000. The bad news, because all victories for women must inherently come with some, is that upon hitting their 30s, they’re projected to make 30 percent less than their male counterparts.
As Aimee Lutkin at Jezebel put it, “Women have so much to look forward to. Millennial women can look forward to making less and less than their male counterparts or, if their [sic] of an older generation, they can look forward to watching millennials make less and less than their male counterparts.” Where is the lie, really?
The discovery that the wage gap only increases between male and female members of the labor force as they age is hardly novel, and a lot of frustrating, gender role-enforcing factors explain this. For starters, who receives promotions and wages is often, at least on some level, based on either gendered perceptions of who is more qualified or experienced, or based on gendered generalizations about what a woman of a certain age is going to do with her body, rather than based wholly on merit and performance.
But the root of the problem remains that paid maternity leave for women but not family leave for both parents, on top of reinforcing the sexist social construct that women must be the sole caretakers of children, renders women vulnerable to lose opportunities for career advancement that men won’t lose. For whatever reason, society has led employers to believe that having children will turn a female employee’s world upside down, but not so much as cause a ripple in a male employee’s.
In 38 percent of households with heterosexual parents, women are the sole income earners, but cultural expectations and maternity leave continue to hurt women’s chances at higher pay and advancement. Specifically, one by Cornell University’s Economics Department revealed women were 8 percent less likely to receive promotions after a law protecting women’s right to maternity leave and flexible post-birth hours passed in 2013. This closely reflects new research that shows men and women earn promotions at strikingly different rates upon hitting their 30s.
Another popular rationalization for the wage gap is the fact that statistics are heavily skewed by gender gaps in high-paying fields, which are dominated by men. For the moment, ignoring how our culture systemically pressures boys and girls to have different interests and eventually pursue different lines of work, this doesn’t explain the roughly 31 percent gender pay gap in STEM jobs. And we can’t forget how ingrained sexism also serves to devalue feminized work, too.
Basically, if this latest report from the Office for National Statistics proves anything, it’s that as per the usual, sexism and ageism go hand-in-hand. 2017 is off to a great start, isn’t it?