Steven J. Hanley Ph.D.

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Gender Wage Gap Hurts More Than Women’s Wallets

Odds are about 100% that you are a woman, you know a woman, or your mother was a woman.  Whichever the case, this is important, so listen up.

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There is a well documented “Gender Wage Gap” in the United States.  Statistics show that women, on average, are paid significantly less than their male counterparts in the workforce.  In 1963 women earned 59 cents for every dollar that a man did.  Most recent statistics indicate that discrepancy has diminished to about 77 cents.  In general, however, the wage gap shrinkage has plateaued over the last 10 years, and the discrepancy remains even greater in some subsets of women (e.g., single mothers, minority women).

The financial impacts of this wage gap on women are stark.  What is often left out of this conversation, however, are the damaging psychological impacts on women’s emotional health as a result of being implicitly and explicitly devalued in the workforce.  Here are just a few:

1.  Internalization of devalued stereotypes leading to lowered self-esteem.  The psychological principle here is that if you are told enough times that you are worth less, you might unwittingly start to believe it.  This is more clearly demonstrated in explicitly denigrating parent/child interactions.  Unfortunately this is something I sometimes see in the psychotherapy I provide to adolescents and their families.  The impacts of devaluation can be more insidious and harder to identify when it is implied, as is the case with reduced pay for equal work.

2.  A feeling of despondency and even depression.  Being chronically and systematically devalued can lead to a sense of “learned helpless” (i.e., “it doesn’t matter what I do because nothing ever improves my situation).  This is especially true in workplace advancement hurdles that women often face – the “glass ceiling” phenomenon.  This can greatly reduce one’s sense of personal satisfaction or gratification and lead to occupational burnout.  This dissatisfaction at work can be carried into the home and negatively impact other family members.

3.  Generalized stress and anxiety.  Financial stress is often cited as a top contributor to clinical and subclinical experiences of anxiety.  In addition to the anxiety of having less money because of gender pay inequity, a more existential anxiety can develop in response to being systematically devalued.  “Why am I here and why would should I stay,” is a question many women ask themselves when faced with workplace gender inequality, and yet financial realities usually require them to remain in their jobs.

The decades long discussion about gender wage disparity will likely continue for decades to come.  From a purely financial and fairness perspective it is important that this discussion continue and that progress is made.  If we care about the emotional well being of our mothers, daughters, aunts, and wives it is equally important that we include the psychological impacts of the gender wage gap in this discussion.

Here are just a few resources for further information:

Fact Sheet: Closing the Gender Wage Gap
The Consequences of Workplace Pay Inequity for Women in America
Gender Inequalities and Health Status

 

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