When the Pay Gap Hits You

Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported that men in Silicon Valley with graduate degrees make 73% more than female peers. The article by Bryce Covert notes that analysis of census data from the 2014 Silicon Valley Index shows men who hold Bachelor’s Degrees make more than women at nearly every level of education. Before you spit out your coffee, let me reassure you that this is actually good news as that number has decreased from 97% in 2010. Yee-hah!

Gender Gap in Silicon Valley,

Individual Median Income by Gender and Educational Attainment

It gets worse as you read on. @thinkprogress says the pay disparities also affect race and ethnic groups, too. Only Asians can hold a candle to the paycheck drawn by white males. This comes to us from the heart of the industry that prides itself on being a meritocracy: hiring for talent and promoting for merit. Any woman who has worked in high tech knows that this is largely horse pucky, of course. The only people who believe it are the men for whom it may actually work.

There are a lot of reasons to be outraged by this situation, of course. My outrage resources are running on empty today (must be the nor’easter) so let me just give you a reason for concern that you may not have thought much about: this pay gap affects not only how much money you have to live on now, but how much you will have when you retire.

Baby Boom Shocker 

The Pig and the Python, David Cork, Susan LightstoneMy husband and I are at the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation so we often get an early look at what’s coming toward the rest of the pig in the python. When we joined the work force back in the day, paychecks were much smaller than they are now. What was a week’s salary for many people then would pay for a nice dinner in a good, medium-priced restaurant now. A salary of $10,000 a year was doing well and it took me years after I graduated college to accomplish this. I’m sure it took me more years than it would have had I been a man.

In fact, I remember a high-tech co-worker wondering why women would want jobs as “linemen” for the electric grid or the phone company. When I suggested that earning a good salary was probably the motivator, he scoffed, “But what do they make? It’s only about $10,000 a year?” At the time, five or six years out of school, I was just cracking that barrier.

When you apply for Social Security, the SSA sends you get a summary of all the money you have made in your career so you can check it and make sure it’s accurate. Staring down the years at all those low salary numbers was a shock. So was seeing all the gaps where I had been laid off by one company or another for whatever reason drove them to reduce their workforce.

No one at the SSA says, “Oh, you should have made more than you did, so let me adjust this to the amount you would have earned had you been a man.” Or, “Let me fill in those pesky layoff gaps for you to reflect what you would have made had that idiot CEO not decided to can the entire Marketing department.” Nope. All you get is the cold, hard numbers and they can feel about as good as a two-by-four upside the head.

Double Whammy 

Those high-earning men in Silicon Valley are almost certainly making more than their wives, girlfriends or live-in partners and they may think that’s alright because their masculine salary will more than compensate. They can pay for fancy cars, small houses (it’s Silicon Valley, after all), expensive vacations, nice clothes, fabulous dinners, and other consumer goodies. What their female spouses make is just a bonus, a nice addition to the family coffers, but not significant.

Now, guys, spin up the time machine about 30 years to when you’ll think about retiring. For men in Silicon Valley, of course, this may not be an issue. You may have hit it big in the IPO sweepstakes, earned Jamie Dimon-level bonuses, or just saved enough of your big salary so that retirement is just a pleasant idea. But if Social Security plays any part in your financial planning, you will discover that one of those checks is going to be much smaller than the other. Guess which one.

Now play Let’s Add a Penis and run the numbers to see how much more you could be getting.

This situation is even worse for the increasing number of families for whom women are the main breadwinner—even in Silicon Valley. The pay disparity hits women in the paycheck now and it will hit again in the Social Security check later. Double whammy.

Women Like men, only cheaperEven as high-tech executives like @Cisco’s John Chambers are whining about not having enough H1-B visas so they can hire cheap employees from India and China, they’re ignoring a source of undervalued labor much closer to home.

They could raise women’s wages to make it more attractive for women with STEM degrees to come to the Valley and work in technology jobs. Or they could just declare them to be the new pool of cheap labor and use them instead of importing workers. That’s what the owners of New England’s textile mills did in the nineteenth century and it would save a lot of money the high tech industry now spends on lobbying Congress.

Related Post: Unemployed Men and Endangered Species

Is the pay gap in Silicon Valley likely to change? When those men with their manly paychecks are or become managers, directors and executives, they will have little incentive to even things up. After all, it worked for the gander—for lots of ganders—and the goose can go fend for herself. At least until she happens to be your wife and she retires.

Watch out for that two-by-four.