How You’re Losing $11,731 A Year Just By Being A Woman

Everyone is at least vaguely aware there is a pay bias that puts women at a disadvantage compared to their male peers, but the retort I’ve heard too many times is that we women get benefits that justify or outweigh our earning inequality. Well, that got me thinking: what is the value, on average, of these discrepancies? And maybe more importantly: How do they net out?

In my 26+ years of living in this world with two X chromosomes (and my grand-total 0 years with a Y), I’ve found that there are some universal experiences women have with money (with caveats, of course). Not one of these is based on some inherent psychological or physical characteristic that unites or divides genders. Instead, each is born out of the outdated roles we played, whether as ornaments, homemakers, or less-skilled labor. So let’s talk about them!

Universal Experience #1: Lower Pay for the Same Work

Average Cost: 20% of your salary

It’s 2018 and more women than men are earning college degrees! In fact, we’ve been outpacing men since 2013. We’re extremely present in the workforce, taking on positions with the exact same responsibilities as our male counterparts, and yet still earning just 80 cents on the dollar, on average (and if you look at the average for women of color, it gets even lower). As a recruiter, I see this all the time. Luckily my company has a strong compensation structure and does a decent job providing the same pay for the same labor, but I find the same three problems cropping up again and again:

  1. Gender bias from hiring managers
  2. Women undervaluing themselves during the interview process
  3. Women starting at lower salaries earlier in their careers, and increases are measured against that rate

I hear the same complaints from hiring managers — especially in traditionally male-led departments. And it’s always veiled. They’ll never say “a woman can’t do the job,” but they will assert that “she doesn’t have the [insert masculine trait here],” even when a female candidate has been doing the job well for years with another firm and has the references and portfolio to prove it. Their solution if they want her for the job: start her at a lower rate, and build her up once she “proves herself.”

Being able to provide evidence in support of the hire is a start, but having the conversation to remind hiring managers of their own biases is more important. The fact that a manager can justify a 10%+ reduction in pay compared to a man — simply by using catchy masculine traits and veiled sexism — means that we haven’t progressed far enough. If a man with the same exact qualifications and experience comes in and doesn’t have to prove his “grit,” “confidence,” or “leadership potential,” based on no more than a masculine-sounding name on the top of his resume, then I would expect a woman to be able to command the same confidence in her experience, and the same pay rate.

And that’s just one piece of the problematic puzzle. I’ve gone on rants about women devaluing themselves during the search for the right position or the right pay. We’re so afraid of making waves or taking ourselves out of the running that we lowball ourselves, and hope that we’ll merit the increase down the line. For the love of god, stop doing this! There are so many tools available for free online that provide a ballpark number of what you should be earning, based on your profession, education, experience, location…If you’re not frequently getting updates on your market salary from groups like Comparably and Glassdoor, at least do yourself a solid and check the going rates now on Salary and Payscale!

It’s because of these tools that I know I’m paid 12% less than the average man with the same experience and doing the same work, simply based on my gender. 12% is better than the 20% average, but it’s still complete bullshit indicative that we have a problem. And damn, 12% would do a lot of good for my financial goals. At least one trap is disappearing: the dreaded salary question during the interview process. We don’t have to provide our prior salaries anymore! In fact, it’s quickly becoming illegal for employers to ask about prior salaries — see the list of states and cities that have banned the question here.

And it makes sense! It shouldn’t matter what your former bill rate was. What is your work worth now? If your former employer paid you 80 cents on the dollar for your work with them, and your new employer is taking that into account when providing you an offer, it creates a vicious cycle of underpaying. Hopefully, banning this seemingly benign question will allow women who had entered the workforce at lower rates to finally catch up to their male peers.

Universal Experience #2: The Pink Tax

Average Cost: $1,351/year

If you haven’t heard about the Pink Tax yet, it’s time you start paying attention to the markup on female-targeted products. On average, feminized products on the market cost 7% more – or an additional $1,351 every year for the average consumer.

Think about it. Everything from daily toiletries to clothing staples and dry cleaning has a markup. And yes, we can choose to purchase body wash that makes us smell masculine, or deodorant marketed towards men, and some women do. But it’s not a realistic option for people who professionally have to represent themselves a certain way or simply prefer to have a more traditionally feminine smell. If you ever want a good laugh-cry, check out this website documenting daily pink tax occurrences. $5 extra for “Lady Power” — the same damn car charger, but in pink? Fuck you, Celltronix.

Universal Experience #3: Free (Useless) Shit

Estimated Benefit: $1,820/year

Now to all of those naysayers who claim women don’t need to earn the same amount as men because men are providing moreshame on you it’s time we talk. Yes, women are sometimes treated to free stuff just for being a woman. But let’s talk about the value of that stuff. (And keep in mind, this just goes for women who date men.)

My personal disclaimer is that I always split the bill, but not everyone has to. Even if I didn’t, let’s consider the cost of the free things I could have, in theory, received. On average, the big contenders here are free dinners, free drinks, free movie or event tickets — things that go along with traditional dating. If on average, I were going on one planned dinner-and-a-movie date per week (averaging at $25/date) and receiving one free drink per week (or other thing valued at $10), which is definitely a stretch, this equates to $1,820/year in comped things.

Thanks, theoretical suitors! But let’s start to dive into that one. Food is good, entertainment is fine, and it’s neat that in theory we women get treated to nice free things, but none of it (aside from sustenance) is actually necessary, or guaranteed. Meanwhile, that Pink Tax is taking an average $1,351/year just to maintain my, erm, feminine appeal.

Net Losses

So let’s net that benefit out — $1,820 in freebies minus $1,351 in pink tax means I’m still theoretically “up” by $469. The naysayers are winning!

But wait! We haven’t factored in my 12% pay gap — or, for the greater population, the average 20%. To keep the theoretical theme going, let’s say I’m earning the average US salary for a woman with a Bachelor’s degree: $61,000 (compared to a man with a Bachelor’s degree, earning an average $87,000). That’s a 30% gap for my education level, so let’s whittle it back down to just the average 20%.

At just the 20% difference, we’re looking at a decrease of $12,200 annually. Even accounting for taxes, that $469 isn’t making a dent in our net loss. It’s a nice gesture, but if people are justifying paying women less because we occasionally get free shit, I propose we stop getting free shit and start getting paid what we’re actually worth instead.


Hopefully, this message is time-capsuled and will be moot in the near future, but right now we’re averaging a net loss of $11,731 annually, just for having two X chromosomes and a bit of estrogen. Thanks for the free stuff (you know, theoretically), but I’d rather just take the money I should be earning.

Tis is a 20-something recruiter, startup enthusiast, finance blogger, and proud feminist-slash-crazy cat lady. Find her on Twitter or check out the blog for lifehacks and musings on personal finance, professional growth, and enjoying the journey to early retirement.

Image via Unsplash

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