Every Equal Pay Day, there’s a noisy crowd of naysayers who claim the fight for pay parity is over — after all, there’s some evidence the gender wage gap has shrunk to just three cents. Unfortunately, that stat doesn’t apply to everyone (it’s specific to college-educated women in their 20s) and leaves out a big chunk of the female workforce (not to mention it oversimplifies a complicated problem). Those three pennies are just the start of a salary gap that widens as women progress through their careers. By the time you’re 60, your lost wages will add up to almost $1 million.
It’s okay if you just spit out 3 cents worth of your $4 latte. Your overpriced coffee isn’t the reason you’re not a millionaire. That 3 cents docked from your paycheck when you were just starting out your career and the widening wage gap that follows you through, though, might be.
According to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), the income you’re losing as a result of the gender wage gap really adds up. It might just be a few thousand dollars when you first start working, but by 37, you’ve already missed out on close to $200,000. Imagine what you could have done with that money? Paid off your student loans? Bought a house? Gone on a really amazing vacation every single year?
But it’s the $1 million figure that’s most shocking. While women are regularly taken to task for wasting our money on shoes or fancy coffee or skincare products, it’s insulting to suggest that our lack of financial security is a result of frivolity. In fact, you’d have to buy 16 coffees a day, every day for more than 30 years in order to blow a $1 million on coffee. For the record, men are pretty frivolous, too — video games! booze! cars! (Stereotypically speaking, of course.)
How are we supposed to fix this problem if the only people talking about it are women? A new survey from Lean In and SurveyMonkey found that one-third of Americans don’t know a gender pay gap exists, and men are nearly twice as likely to refute its reality. But nearly 75% of people say “it would be a major problem or crisis if they earned 20% less money,” and the same research shows an equal percent of people believing the gap is unfair when they learned it’s still hanging around.
It is unfair. It is a crisis. And it’s not something that’s going away. This year, Refinery29’s leading the conversation with a series of stories that looks at issues with the wage gap in all its manifestations.
Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, offers three actionable steps we can take to begin to fix the gender wage gap.