On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, it’s Disheartening to Note that those with Doctorates Experience a Wage Loss of $2.1 million

On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, it’s Disheartening to Note that those with Doctorates Experience a Wage Loss of $2.1 million
  • PublishedJuly 27, 2023

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is on July 27th this year, and means Black women must work an additional 208 days to catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made the year before.

Black women are typically paid only 67 cents for every dollar paid to white men, and the wage gap actually widens to 65 cents on the dollar for Black women who hold doctorate degrees compared to white men with the same education. This adds up to a loss of $53,334 a year, and more than $2.1 million over the course of a 40-year career, according to a new analysis from the National Women’s Law Center.

Getting higher education has long been seen as a pathway to economic mobility. Yet for Black women who attain higher degrees—such as Master’s degrees, Law degrees, Ph.Ds, and M.D.s—the wage gap steepens as their education levels rise. “I suspect it is because when we compare the most educated Black women to the most educated white men, those are the white men whose salaries are especially inflated,” says Emily Martin, VP of education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “If you look at workers who don’t have a high school diploma, that is the education level at which the wage gap is smallest for Black women, who make a whole 75 cents for every dollar white men because there is more of a cap [on lower-wage earners].”

Larger numbers of Black women in particular are achieving more doctoral degrees than ever before: There was a 30% increase in the number of Black women doctoral recipients in 2019 as compared to 2010, according to the National Science Foundation.

While more Black women getting higher degrees is positive, there may also be a financial setback for Black women attaining higher degrees because they are also strapped with bigger student loans because they’re going to school longer. Chandra Thomas Whitfield, journalist and podcast host of “In The Gap,” told me in a previous Forbes article on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, “We’re among the most educated, yet we’re getting paid less and we’re also straddled with debt from student loans. Even the money we make is not our money, because we have to give it back to loans.”

The gender and racial wage gap affects women who have not yet entered the workforce. For example, Kanyin Shonibare, a second-year law student at Columbia University, knows that even with her anticipated law degree in two years, this academic achievement won’t shield her from the wage gap.

“It’s a double whammy of my race and my gender playing against me, but I haven’t even started in my career,” says Shonibare. “There’s already this steep obstacle right in front of me, and I’ll be in debt when I graduate. It worries me because, aside from the fact that law school is so expensive, I have a passion for social justice and advocacy, and so I’m not going into a higher-paying job in corporate law.”

Shonibare says many of her classmates also share her financial concerns. “My friends and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford to have a child or buy a house in a city as expensive as New York,” says Shonibare. “Even when I have a law degree, I know I’ll be paid less than a male lawyer doing the same work I’m doing. Making less money will affect how much I’m able to save and what kind of retirement I’ll have. I’m only 22, but I’m thinking about these things.”

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day may be especially important in 2023 in terms of continuing to raise awareness about long-existing inequities. “We just had the Supreme Court’s decision striking down racially-conscious admissions in higher education, which has spurred a lot of threats from the right wing about corporate diversity and inclusion programs, and conversation about whether maybe we’re done with all that,” says Martin. “This Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a really stark reminder that we have a lot of work left to do. We have not achieved equality in this country. The wage gap is just such a clear calculation of the degree of inequality that remains, and you still see it when you dice it by educational attainment and by occupation, because Black women are being paid less in any of those comparisons.”

In order to get closer to equity, there are a number of ways to help close the gap. Salary transparency laws, not basing compensation on salary history, and pay equity audits are all a step in the right direction, as is creating equitable pathways for advancement to leadership positions within organizations, which typically pay more. Affordable childcare is also key, as about 80% of Black women are the breadwinners for their families, yet the majority of caregiving duties also remain on women’s shoulders. Also, raising the minimum wage helps close the gap because women, and Black women in particular, are overrepresented in the lowest-paid jobs.

It’s time to close the wage gap for good. “I think what the wage gap tells us is that women are not valued equally,” says Shonibare. “I hope that our view of Black women and women in general will change in society—because if we are seen as valuable, then our work will be fairly compensated.”

Source: written by Holly Corbett

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