On Equal Pay Day, Men Pay More for Coffee

By kyle stock

Women on the east side of Milwaukee can get a $1 coffee today at the Brewing Grounds for Change café. Men will have to pay the standard $1.75, according to Katie Curl, a member of the collective that runs the coffee shop.

The promotion is one of a number of subtle demonstrations being held to mark wage inequalities between men and women. The National Committee on Pay Equity, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, has named today Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how far into the new year the average U.S. woman would have to work to earn what the average U.S. man earned in 2010.

Across the country, there will be press conferences, speeches by advocacy groups and "unhappy hours," cocktail parties when the occasion is not something to celebrate, according to Michelle Leber, chair of the National Committee.

The wage gap between men and women shrunk quickly in the 1980s and 1990s, but has been stuck near its current level for about a decade. For all jobs in 2010, the median wage for full-time women workers was 81.2% that of men, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Women even earned less than men in occupations dominated by women, like nursing and elementary school teaching.

Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Insitute, said the gap is propagated by an overall secrecy about pay. Companies often don't internally audit their compensation for fear of finding bias.

"There's a kind of self-censorship," Hegewisch said.

At the same time, women who are underpaid often don't realize it, because so many companies have policies precluding -- or at least discouraging -- workers from comparing pay levels.

"There's this whole mystique around it," Hegewisch said. "It's like alcoholism or something -- you just don't mention."

What's more, a list of occupations with the largest gender wage gap is dominated by finance jobs. Female personal financial advisors, for example, make only 58% as much as their male counterparts, the largest discrepancy of any U.S. job, according to the Institute. Sales agents of securities, commodities and financial services are almost as divergent, with women garnering only 63% of the average male wage. Female insurance agents, meanwhile, make 66% as much as their male counterparts.

Write to Kyle Stock

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