Why You'll Have To Wait 170 Years For Equal Pay

Photographed by David Brandon Geeting.
As a finance editor, I receive pitches about the gender pay gap all the time — so much so that its presence seems mundane and even normal. Oh yeah, the gender gap. What else is new? Whenever that thought flutters in my brain, I'm simultaneously depressed and infuriated. No, the gender gap is not normal. It's harmful to everyone. And it's not getting better.

A new study from the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report found that women around the world work an average of 39 days more than men each year (or roughly 50 minutes per day). Oh, and also? We earn less doing so. Once you account for these new findings, the gender gap would take almost 170 years to close.

One reason for the large discrepancy in total work hours is because the WEF included unpaid labor, including childcare, elder care, and domestic housework, in its tally. And this is the crucial point, because this data shows how paid family leave could help lessen the gap and allow for women (and men) to continue to work, without disruption, at higher-paying jobs.

Already, some critics of the report are sniffing at the fact that it includes unpaid labor. (Ashe Schow at the Washington Examiner says that it "depends on the definition of work.") Well, let me tell you, as someone who is frantically typing this while working from home as my croup-stricken daughter is taking a nap, housework and childcare are work. And, like it or not, women are disproportionately the ones who pick up the slack at home. We might get the day off to take care of a family matter without question — but then later, we don't get a promotion and have to work twice as hard to fight for a raise. Face time matters more than performance in many offices.

Here's the thing: The demands children place on you are so different than the demands thrown at you at the office. I didn't get this until I became a mom. I thought I knew juggling and prioritizing — in my 20s, I had a full-time job and ghost-wrote 10 young adult novels in my "spare" time. I was also able to train for three triathlons, one marathon, and have a social life. I thought I could apply that get-it-done mentality to balancing a baby and a job. But here's what I didn't get until I tried it: There is no "balance."

When I was juggling my day job and my writing gig, I knew that I could always get things done, even if it did require a few all-nighters or some weekends when I didn't leave the house except to go on a corner deli run. But it doesn't work that way when you have a child. You can't just get all your childcare done between midnight and 6 a.m., the way you can manage a deadline. Your child needs to eat three meals plus snacks on roughly the same schedule. Your child needs story time and a bedtime and playdates and bath time and all of those are "have-tos" — they can't be pushed aside for later. And then there's the laundry, the cleanup, the endless Swiffering that I'm boring even myself by listing.

This is my way of explaining: Yes, of course it's work. A lot of it. Plus, work life and kids life usually all takes place within the same 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. chunk of time and, unless you've got plenty of support or the financial resources to pay for help, something has to give. Every working parent has to do some sort of mental calculation when it comes to how to devote time to their job or their child. This is why many women are forced to drop out mid-career — and ultimately, why you see fewer women in executive positions.

Based on this research, the gender gap won't be easy to fix. But at the end of the day — a work day that is 13 minutes longer for American women, mind you — we all just want to know that there is some progress in trying to close it. We currently rank 45th out of the 144 countries in WEF's report when it comes to wage parity. We were 28th just last year. Things are moving in the wrong direction.

How to fight it? Research the pay gap in your state. Support political candidates who support paid family leave. (It's worth noting that paternity leave actually has more of an impact on women's careers than maternity leave does). Learn how to ask for more. Yes, it's just one more thing to add to your to-do list. But it's one that literally pays off.
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