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Pay disparity between men and women 'shapes everything,' Mason professors say

March 30, 2020

Angela Hattery

Angela Hattery admits that the issue of pay disparity between men and women has lost some traction lately. That is unfortunate, the professor and director of Women and Gender Studies Program at George Mason University said, because unequal pay “shapes everything.”

“It shapes how much of a home I can buy or child care I can pay for or college tuition,” Hattery said. “I have to work longer. I might not be able to retire as comfortably. If I need to go into assisted living, I won’t be able to pay for it as long. It is everything.”

Equal Pay Day is March 31, a day that represents how far into a year, on average, a woman must work to earn what a man earned the previous year.

To acknowledge the day, Mason’s Faculty Senate has drawn up a proclamation that urges the Mason community “to recognize the full value of women’s skills and significant contributions to the labor force.”

A website is also being created to feature the research and commentary on the subject that would have been presented at a conference held by Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. That conference was a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even so, Shannon Davis, Faculty Senate chair and director of graduate programs in sociology, said the message needs to be amplified, especially at institutions of higher learning.

“We pride ourselves on talking about access to excellence,” Davis said. “We talk about the ways in which we prepare students for the future, where there are no disparities. But what we see is there are disparities after they finish their time at Mason. [Female students] may come out with excellent grades and excellent opportunities, but they walk into a labor market knowing they will not be treated equally based on something as simple as their sex.”

“As an institution of higher learning,” she added, “it is imperative to bring attention to this issue and to arm students with information, which they can use to advocate for themselves and be allies for others advocating for equal pay.”

Shannon Davis

The statistics are indeed stark.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), full-time working women are paid, on average, 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This causes women to lose out on $500 billion annually.

African American women are paid just 61 cents for every dollar paid to a white man, the AAAW reported. Latinas are paid 53 cents for every dollar paid to a white man.

In her new book “Why Who Cleans Counts,” Davis, in analyzing data from 4,000 U.S couples, shows how that disparity can play out in day-to-day circumstances at home.

“What we found,” Davis said, “is an absolute connection between economic opportunities and resources and how power is enacted within the household. The extent individuals are able to use what we call latent power to encourage their partner to behave in a way that is consistent with the way you believe things should be—as opposed to a mutually constituted understanding of what your household should look like, is connected to money. We see finances also playing a role in other power dynamics to include levels of disagreement, conflict and physical violence.”

That said, the bottom line struggle for equal pay happens in the workplace, Hattery said.

“I don’t know that there’s any workplace that’s immune to the pay gap,” she said. “For me, the bigger question would be for Mason and any institution: What are some strategies you can do to level that or prevent it from getting worse.”

Angela Hattery can be reached at ahattery@gmu.edu or 703-993-2897.

Shannon Davis can be reached at sdaviso@gmu.edu or 703-993-1433.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason 
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.