Women of Color and the Wage Gap

By Alison Borman

Many people are already familiar with the famous statistic of the average woman earning 78% of what her male counterpart does. However, it would be more accurate to say that the average white woman earns only 78% of what her white male counterpart does. This statistic fails to address the various other factors that can play a role in an individual’s wages aside from one’s gender, such as race and ethnicity. Much like gender, race seems to have a negative effect on one’s earnings which leaves women of color in the most difficult position. The previously mentioned percentage becomes significantly lower when one looks at the wages of a woman of color compared to that of a white man’s.

A portion of this difference is believed to be due to differences in occupations and hours worked, but this is only a detail of a larger picture. These differences are not so much a reflection of differences in choices, but rather realities and factors that have been predetermined. After all, why would someone choose to be paid less? The truth is, women of color, particularly Hispanic and African American women, face significant barriers to entry within the workplaces. They are significantly less likely to be in management positions and are instead more often than not relegated to service positions.

There are various factors that act as barriers to women of color in the work place. Education is a significant barrier as Hispanic and African American women are less likely to graduate from high school and receive a bachelor’s degree when compared to white women. This automatically puts these women at an incredible disadvantage and bars them from any high-paying professional fields. The responsibilities of a family are another critical factor. Though women of color are more likely to the breadwinners in their families, they are still more likely to be single mothers than white women. This provides the additional challenges of balancing family with work.

These factors are just small pieces of a larger issue. Most obviously, the education gap can be blamed on socioeconomic conditions. This perpetuates a cycle through generations which is difficult to escape, particularly since access to education unfortunately is so often dependent on financial circumstances. Additionally, the United States is one of the only developed countries not to universally offer paid family and medical leave. This makes being successful in work challenging for women, particularly those who would like to raise a family. There is also the issues of employers own prejudices, whether racial or regarding gender or both, which is difficult to measure but inarguably exists.