Myth or Reality: Are Men Fading and Women Rising to Become Major Breadwinners?

Posted October 24, 2012 by Barb Mednick in Life After Five
Is it myth or reality that men are fading and women are rising up to become the major breadwinners in the family?

This question of whether or not women are seizing the reins of power in the U.S. and becoming the major breadwinners and decision-makers was posed recently in an October 9th article titled “Working in America: the Myth of Men in Decline” that ran in the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune. First published by the Los Angeles Times, it caught my attention and made me ponder the implications of this key issue.

The recent series of books being published promoting that women are becoming more successful than men make a convincing argument, but not if you examine the facts associated with the gender pay gap.

The article references Hanna Rosen, who writes in The End of Men that the U.S. is fast becoming a “middle class matriarchy” as women become the major breadwinners. In The Richer Sex, author Liza Mundy claims that one in four women out-earn their spouses. But is this really the case? Have women really gone too far to achieve gender equity?

While women have made enormous strides during the past 40 years, the gender pay gap is no closer than it was six years ago. According to such credible organizations as Catalyst, the Women’s National Law Center on Equal Pay, and the American Association for University Women (AAUW), U.S. women who work full-time, year-round are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts in 2011. For women of color, the gap is even larger.

Catalyst is the leading non-profit engaged in building inclusive workplaces and advancing women and business, and AAUW has been at the forefront of research and advocacy on pay equity for decades.

Pay discrimination — often a silent offense — also came up during the second presidential debate held on October 16th. One of the key messages from this debate is that this is an economic issue not only for women, but also for families. Believe it or not, it’s been 40 years since the U.S. Congress passed the 1963 Equal Pay Act. Yet nearly a half century later, women are still getting paid less than men.

According to Catalyst president and CEO Ilene H. Lang, the gender pay gap is one of the most important issues in the fight for equality in the workplace. This gap in earnings translates into $10, 784 less per year in median earnings. Lang points out that with few exceptions, this gap remains entrenched for now.

These statistics underscore the fact that we still have work to do to achieve gender equity. A key problem is that women often don’t know whether or not they are getting paid less than men.

What’s more, pay difference actually grows as a women’s career progresses, adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars on average over a lifetime, according to a June 21, 2012 article in Bloomberg Businessweek. Catherine Hill, head of research at AAUW, found that among college graduates, the pay gap grew from 20 cents on the dollar one year after graduation to 31 cents by the tenth reunion.

However, only some of the pay gap is the result of discrimination by employers, according to the Bloomberg Businessweek article. The article notes that:

. . .men crowd into high-paying fields like engineering, while women dominate lower-paying fields like education and social service. And women are more likely than men to fall off the career track when they have children. They take time off and lose skills, or they opt for less-demanding jobs so they can spend more time at home. Most fathers, in contrast, manage to skate through parenthood without the slightest harm to their careers.

While this may be true, it’s also true that women should be paid the same as men for the same work.

So how can we ensure that male and female employees get equal pay and benefits for comparable work? An important tool to combat this inequity is the Paycheck Fairness Act, according to the Women’s National Law Center on Equal Pay. This common sense bill, which is still pending in Congress, would give workers stronger tools to fight wage discrimination, bar retaliation against workers for discussing salary information, and ensure full compliance for victims of gender-based pay discrimination.

While some may think that women have gone too far, the reality is that the fight for equality is not over.

About the Author

Barb Mednick

Barbara K. Mednick is Associate Director of Corporate Communications for KPMG LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a passion for workforce issues/trends, particularly as they relate to women. Previously she ran a successful, Twin Cities-based PR and marketing communications consultancy and held senior account management positions at several top Twin Cities PR and marketing agencies. Barbara began her career as a journalist at a daily newspaper and holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and a Mini-MBA Certificate from the University of St. Thomas. During her career, Barbara has written numerous articles and posts for various print and online media. She has garnered a number of industry awards for writing and successful PR and marketing communications campaigns conducted for clients. Also, she has taught a number of writing workshops for professionals and she blogs on the intersection of PR, marketing communications, and social media at http://bkminsights.blogspot.