Women Earn Less Than Men — And They Are Charged More Too - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

John Bickel

John Bickel is president of Americans for Democratic Action Hawaii Chapter.

Yoo Ra Sung

Yoo Ra Sung is an intern with Americans for Democratic Action and a sophomore at Brandeis University.

Although the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made pay discrimination in the United States illegal over half a century ago, the gender pay gap persists in our society today.

It is ironic that in the past 50 years, women have increasingly been working more hours and surpassing men in higher education, yet receive an average of $0.82 for every man’s dollar.

The gender pay gap is even worse for women of color, with Black women earning $0.62, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women earning $0.61 and Latino women earning $0.54 of their male counterparts.

Despite the fact that women are pursuing college degrees at a higher rate than men, this also means that women hold nearly two-thirds of the nation’s $1.54 trillion dollars of student loan debt. Women of minority groups are disproportionately affected, with Black women and first-generation college students attending for-profit schools affected the most.

Although women have more debt due to the gender pay gap, women have a harder time repaying their student loans, taking an average of two years longer than men to become free of student debt while being twice as likely to struggle economically in the process.

More women in the United States are now in college — but the wage discrimination they face when they enter the job market means that women have to work more hours than men to pay off their student loans. Flickr: Elvert Barnes

As a result of overall lower lifetime earnings, women also face an income gap in retirement and Social Security benefits — on average, women receive only 80.2% of Social Security benefits and 76.2% of pension income compared to men.

And so the gender wage gap persists. Four of the biggest factors? 

Occupational Gender Segregation 

Certain prejudices persist with traditionally male-dominated and female-dominated jobs — and jobs considered “women’s work” are paid less. While women have been making efforts to move into male-dominated fields, progress has generally stagnated since the 1990s. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009 shows full-time, employed women on average earned less than their male counterparts in 104 of 108 surveyed occupations.

The Motherhood Penalty

Mothers receive significantly lower salaries than men who are fathers, men who are not fathers, and women who are not mothers.  Mothers working full time are paid 71% of what fathers are paid, and studies have shown that not only are employers less likely to hire mothers, when they do, they offer a lower salary than what is offered to women without children.

On the converse side, men with children are rewarded for having children, due to what is called the “fatherhood bonus.” Men with children earn significantly more than any demographic on the scale. According to a 2016 report by the Senate Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff, motherhood is generally viewed as a “signal of lower levels of commitment and professional competence” while fathers are considered to have “increased work commitment and stability.” 

Gender-based Discrimination

The gender pay gap is also reinforced by beliefs that women are inferior to men and cannot produce work of equal caliber to their male counterparts. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 42% of surveyed women said that they experienced gender-based discrimination at work, while only 22% of the men surveyed reported gender-based discrimination.

The most prominent form of discrimination reported was based on unequal wages, with one in four women reporting that they earned less than a male co-worker doing the same job. Compared to the number of men hired, only 72% of women are promoted and hired. 

In 2015, women held only 26% of private-sector executive positions and 22% of executive positions of nonprofit organizations with annual budgets of $50 million or more, although women consisted of 75% of the nonprofit workforce.

A Lack Of Pay Transparency

A lack of pay transparency made it hard for women to advocate for equal pay. Without accurate information about what their co-workers are being paid, women may not even know when they are being underpaid. 

Research shows that “women with higher education levels who live in states that have outlawed pay secrecy have higher earnings, and the wage gap is consequently reduced.”

In 2019 the equal pay movement in Hawaii say a partial breakthrough when, with the backing of the Women’s Legislative Caucus (led by Sen. Cynthia Thielen and Rep. Linda Ichiyama),  Senate Bill 2351 became law and prohibited prospective employers from requesting or considering a job applicant’s prior wage or salary history in the job application process. The law prohibits enforced wage secrecy and retaliation against employees who disclose or inquire about their own or their coworkers’ wages.

The 2020 legislative session almost built on the law. House Bill 1192 included a number of provisions including updating the term “equal work” to “substantially similar work,” and prohibiting pay discrimination not only by gender but numerous other factors including race, age, marital status and domestic or sexual violence victim status. The bill passed both houses but died very late in a session truncated by COVID-19.

And Then There’s The “Pink Tax”

Not only are women paid less, they are also being charged more for access to the same basic goods and necessities needed to live a reasonably fulfilling life. According to the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee’s 2016 report on how gender-based pricing hurts women’s buying power, despite the five-fold increase in women’s combined earnings between 1967 and 2015, women are still limited because they are subjected to the pink tax: “(a) phenomenon (that) may not constitute intentional discrimination, (but due to) the frequency with which female consumers find themselves paying higher prices for gender-specific goods and services effectively becomes a tax on being a woman.”  

A 2015 study released by the New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs examined more than 800 products across 35 categories to track gender-based price discrepancies. The analysis showed that women’s products are more than twice as likely to be priced higher than men’s products.

Baby clothes for girls cost an average of 13% more than for boys, women’s shirts cost 15% more than men’s shirts and even in old age, supports, braces and adult diapers cost 15% more for women compared to men.

Women aren’t only paying more for products, they pay more for services such as dry cleaning, haircuts and car repairs as well. 

Despite the financial harm the pink tax causes women, no federal law prohibits gender-based discriminatory pricing. In 1995, California passed a law that made gender-based price discrimination in services illegal, and New York City passed a similar law in 1998. In 2018, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act at the federal level. But Speier’s bill failed. 

The gender pay gap and the pink tax are two sides of the same coin. According to a recent Civil Beat article on the gender wage gap, “if the $8,149 annual gender pay gap were eliminated, a working woman in Hawaii would have enough money to purchase 11.2 additional months of child care and five and one half additional months of rent.” 

In a state where countless people, especially single mothers and families, are living from paycheck to paycheck, eliminating the gender pay gap would have an astounding effect on poverty and homelessness rates. 

It is not enough to simply outlaw pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Ultimately, we as a society need to create strict guidelines for the way women are treated by employers and by our economic systems. 

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

How To Redefine The Housing Crisis In Hawaii

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Authors

John Bickel

John Bickel is president of Americans for Democratic Action Hawaii Chapter.

Yoo Ra Sung

Yoo Ra Sung is an intern with Americans for Democratic Action and a sophomore at Brandeis University.

Latest Comments (0)

One way to minimize the Mommy penalty is to minimize the Daddy penalty (which is much, much worse). Once families don't face an essential end to the father's career for being a full-time parent, women will see less of a penalty as well.For true gender equality we need to push for men's equality under the law, not more division and hatred. Justice is supposed to be blind for a reason; efficiency that enriches Life.

MEL · 2 years ago

I am in agreement with most of the article.  The dispute I have is with the cost of attending or watching male sports.  It costs nearly $80 to watch PPV boxing or MMA.  UH football, that is like $60.  So yes, my haircut is cheap.  But I got to pay a lot to honor my gender role.  

FadedShamrock · 2 years ago

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, although more bachelor's degrees were awarded to women in contrast to men (58% to 42%), fewer women entered STEM fields in contrast to their male peers (36% to 64%). Objectively speaking, STEM related jobs generally pay more than jobs relative to liberal arts or humanitarian fields which more women dominate relative to earned degrees.Pay differentials in this case are by choice, not by discrimination.For women being paid less than their male peers for the same work, and who are directly discriminated against because of their gender, that's 100% illegal. These women have every right to file a complaint against their employer and demand just recourse with sufficient evidence gender discrimination has taken place. Without evidence, such sentiment is purely subjective and has no place in the court of law.I am 1000% against discrimination of any kind, but unequal outcomes don't necessarily indicate unequal opportunities.

basic_citizen123 · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.