By Denise Noe
In a column published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution looking back on the feminist movement that broke in the early 1970s, Ellen Goodman stated that women make 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. This figure was stated as if it were an automatic indication of either employers’ discrimination against women or a more overall societal tendency to oppress women by limiting their workplace opportunities and therefore their pay.
One of the reasons the above assumptions are false was thrown into sharp relief by a conversation I had with a man shortly after reading Goodman’s column. This man had been working on a job cleaning windows and was on a ladder when he had an accident that took his foot off. Luckily, doctors were able to reattach his foot but he was left disabled.
A major reason for the 23 cent gap in average pay for men and women is that the most physically dangerous jobs require more physical strength than the vast majority of women possess. People, regardless of gender, tend receive higher pay for work that puts life and limb in jeopardy. According to US Department of Labor statistics for 2006, 54% of workers were men and 46% women while 92% of those killed on the job were men and only 8% women. The 23-cent gap between men’s and women’s incomes is to a large extent a reflection of the workplace death gap.
Another reason for the gender wage gap is that women are more likely to move in and out of the labor market than men. That women spend more time out of the paid workforce than men does not necessarily indicate oppression by tyrannical male chauvinist pigs but can reflect the greater freedom we have to devote time to homemaking and/or child care and the generosity and caring of the men who take on the sole breadwinner role in order to allow us that freedom. Indeed, men often take dangerous jobs so they can adequately support the women and children in their lives.
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