LANSING, Mich. — In Michigan, the average man makes nearly $54,000 a year. The average woman makes less than $42,000 a year.
Because we're living in a time when women have more opportunities than ever, this disparity in pay may seem surprising.
To civil rights attorney Deborah Gordon, it's not.
"There's not a single industry where you're going to see women making more than men," Gordon said. "That's because of gender discrimination, it's because of stereotypes. It's because we've come a long way, but not that far."
Gordon runs her own law practice in Bloomfield Hills. In the '70s, she worked to be considered an equal to her male counterparts. In the 2020s she's working to make sure her female clients earn equal pay.
"To get our arms around equal pay, there's a couple things that have to be understood. One is occupational segregation," Gordon said.
Occupational segregation is when one group is overrepresented or underrepresented in a certain field, and it's a big part of why women in Michigan earn, on average, 77 cents to ever dollar men earn.
"Not as many men are secretaries, administrative assistants. There’s still this occupational segregation," Gordon said. "When you try to figure out well, ‘Why aren't there more men in this world or women in that world?' There's no easy answer. It's just tradition, and a historical sort of mindset about who should do what."
The second reason women earn less than men on average? Childcare.
"As we know, with care-giving for children, much of that burden falls on mothers as opposed to fathers, even in two-parent families," said Peter Ruark, a senior policy analyst at Michigan League for Public Policy who helps to put together the annual report on the wage gap in Michigan.
Over the last fifty years, we've seen more men choosing to stay at home with their kids, but far more women still choose home life over work life.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, as of 2016, 27 percent of moms were stay-at-home parents versus 7 percent of dads.
"When you try to find one rule about the wage gap, where it happens, what income levels that it tends to occur in, it's hard to find a consistent pattern," said Ruark. "But the main point is that it is happening in a lot of lower-paid communities. And we want to not only do away with the wage gap, but we want to find ways to increase people's earnings."
Ruark says we can help close the wage gap by creating better policies to support female workers.
This includes legislation that would provide better paid sick leave for workers to care for sick children at home, a higher minimum wage and predictable scheduling legislation so employers would have to give employees with kids ample time to find childcare, and better childcare.
"The state has made a good investment compared to previous years," Ruark said. "We're making some progress on childcare, but we're not completely there yet."
Data shows the gap between average pay for men and woman has gotten smaller in the last six years, but we're still far from equal.
"Once women get into positions of power and responsibility, so much of this is going to change," Gordon said, "but we still live in a world where there are not many women, you know, running the show, no matter where it is."
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