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Wage Disparity across Gender, Race, and Ethnicity Research Paper

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Updated: May 14th, 2020


Wage disparity is used to refer to the differences in earning for two different groups of people, working in similar set up or their wages are arbitrarily different in the labour market. Wage disparity is mostly used in relation to describing the uneven spread of income across gender, race, and ethnic groups, which can lead to social inequalities and other problems in the workplace especially when the disparity is much pronounced.

Various research studies have been undertaken on the wage disparities by many researchers to examine various parameters of wage inequalities since they contribute a lot to the labor-market inequalities. Majority of the studies relating to wage disparities are quantitative in nature and involve measurements and comparison of wages and salaries.

These studies are mainly intersectional, trying to explain the wage inequalities using survey data to evaluate the differences based on gender, social status, and racial/ethnic groupings.

Wage disparities exist due to a variety of factors and the leading contributor to these wage gaps is the fact that many women and racial discriminated people are still secluded in the low paying occupations, with more than half of the all women workers holding sales, office administration entry-level jobs, and service jobs.

In addition, most female dominated jobs are low paying compared to male dominated jobs (Howard, 2004). The issue of privileges also appears to affect wage disparity in the work place. Privileges refer favors that are allowed to certain people or a particular person and are not allowed to other people in set up such as a work place.

These privileges are earned through achievement or are allowed to a certain grouping of people within most organizational structures.

In workplace, some organization members are allowed some privileges based not on merit, but on their ascribed status due to their association with certain groupings such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, and physical ability and this status is mostly influenced by external factors that are beyond the person’s immediate control (Karsten, 2006, P.254).

These unearned privileges have been shown to play a role in contributing to wage gaps among employees of the same level or in work of equivalent magnitude. Wage disparity due to any form of discrimination against certain groups in the workplace are common recipe for hatred, tensions, low level of motivation among workers and reduced productivity of the entire organization.

In this research paper, issues of unearned privileges will only be discussed in the context of race and gender. This research paper seeks to explore the issues of wage disparity across gender, race, and ethnicity in the American workplace set up. In the next sections of this paper, the following two relationships will be explored based on studies carried on them:

  • Wage disparity and gender
  • Wage disparity and race/ethnicity issues

Wage disparity and gender

Since time in memorial, there have been noticeable salary gaps between the two genders in majority of the existing occupations. Although there have been some level of salary parity between male and female in professional occupations, the level of wages gaps are still high between the two groups.

Studies have clearly revealed that, generally, men earn higher salaries than women even when at the same job group and mostly female dominated jobs are low paying compared to male dominated jobs, which pay better wages and salaries. According to the analysis carried on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data in 1998, it was revealed that gender salary disparities continue to persist.

In this case, “the median weekly pay of full-time working women being 75 percent of the median pay for men in 1996; though women began closing the wage gap in 1980s, the earning for women in salaried full-time year-round positions reached 71 percent of men’s earnings in 1991 after a long stagnation period” (Gibelman, 2003,P.25).

One of the contributing factors to low earning among the women is the occupation choices they make. Generally, women are more tied with family obligations such as looking after the children. Though men are increasing being more involved in child upbringing, this area of family life is still considered female oriented.

In order to cope with family obligations and work necessities, many women tend to work in part time jobs, which mostly pay lowly and lead to low pay increments; with studies showing that in 2002, 32 percent of women compared to 10.8 percent of men worked part-time, thus the income disparity pitied women against the men (Anon, 2003).

Other factors that may limit women’s choice include “lack of affordable child care, a spouse’s unwillingness to share family responsibility, lack of flexible working schedule, and lack of well paying part-time jobs, which cause women to drop out of the workforce for longer periods than men, hence eventually they losing their career momentum and needed experience leading them to end up in jobs that pay less” (Howard, 2004, P.19).

A women choice is just one of the many complex factors that are put forward by scholars in trying to explain the continued wage disparity between men and women.

The position of authority at work is always associated with better pay and room for advancement in ones career path. Research on authority at work place mainly relate to its attainment and returns associated with the authority. Several studies conducted by sociologist and economist have concluded that women are less likely to ascend to positions with much decision-making power and they receive lower authority returns than men.

Thus, women reap little authority returns from education and experience compared to men, even though education produces a lot of positive results for women at lowest levels of authority, while for men education enable them to reap more benefits at highest levels of authority (Romero, & Margolis, 2005, P. 175). Between the male and female dominated occupations, gender seems to play a significant role in determining the occupants of the position of authority in the workplace.

Several research studies have revealed that jobs dominated by women are mostly characterized by lower level of authority, with male dominated jobs experiencing little authority gaps between the two groups.

However, in jobs with many women, there is reduced room for progress for both men and women, though men are more likely to climb to decision-making authority in that set up (Romero, & Margolis, 2005, P. 175). The level authority thus has also contributed to the wage disparity between male and female employees of same qualifications.

After many studies being undertaken, still the wage disparity between men and women cannot be completely explained or be solved in most of occupations.

According to the analysis conducted by the General Accounting Office study, after taking care of all major factors that affect wage gap, majority of women earned 80 percent of what men earned in 2000, and the evaluation was unable to account for the remaining 20 percent earning gap, even if the other factors contributing to discrimination which can cause wage gap were considered (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003).

Further, studies have shown that wage disparity between men and women are historical in that, even in situations where men and women occupy same job group and work in similar conditions they still exist. According to studies carried on wage disparities in the profession of social workers, the salaries of social workers who are members of NASW supported the historic trend in wage gaps, since in 1995, still the gaps existed with the median income of female respondents being $ 34,135 and $ 37,503 for male respondents (Gibelman & Schervish, 1997).

Wage disparity and race/ethnicity issues

The Civil Rights Act clearly prohibits discrimination of employees by the employers based on race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and background. Though these laws are there to protect the employees against racial discrimination, up to date studies show that there are significant wage gaps between the whites and the African Americans and other minority groups.

Researchers have mainly identified two factors that they have based their arguments in, trying to explain the continuing wage disparity between the two groups. These two factors include racial discrimination and level of expertise between the two groups at their workplaces. The issue of racial discrimination in the work place is still common, with some employers acknowledging that they practice it.

According to studies carried out by Kirschenman and Neckerman (1991), it was revealed that several of Chicago employers they involved in the study discriminated against the African Americans and workers from the inner city, and around 74 percent of the employers had negative attitudes towards the African American young men (Coleman, 2003, p.894).

Through studies involving use regression method, researchers have been able to show that wage gaps among different race groups in a workplace can mainly be attributed to discrimination rather than lack of skills. According to Coleman (2003), the African American men and women still face more discrimination in wage increment and promotion than whites after all factors have been accounted for, and they also earn less compared to the whites working in the same organization, implying that racial discrimination continues to exist in the workplaces.

According to the regressions studies carried out by Mason to evaluate the lack of skills issue in relation to wage gaps, he found out that “whites received larger returns on job tenure than blacks or Latinos; white Latinos, whether immigrant or native, have higher wages than nonwhite Latinos, immigrant or native” (Mason, 1999).

The race factor in wage disparity is not a gender issue, but rather, it ascribed by the discrimination that exist among the groups that are working in the same workplace. Browne and Misra, while conducting studies to determine earnings gap based on race and gender found out that, “White women earn more than most Latino men, and Asian women earn more than White women and African American men” (Romero, & Margolis, 2005, P. 171).

Several studies have been conducted to evaluate how job mobility may affect wage gaps among the different groups yielding varied results. One of the profound studies is the research that was carried out by Alon and Tienda to determine how young women’s job mobility affects racial and ethnic wage growth gaps. They found out that African American and Hispanic women experienced less job mobility compared to the white women.

Secondly, the unskilled women who made several job changes in the first four post school years had better wage returns, but beyond that, the returns dwindled. Lastly, the job changes do not appear to improve wage growth for the skilled women (Alon & Tienda, 2005). This study, coupled with other studies, indicates that job mobility can cause wage disparity among different group, especially in unskilled sectors were mobility appear to favor Whites against other groups.


Wage disparity across gender, race, and ethnicity has been one of the predominant social problems facing our society since ancient times. Though eliminating wage disparity across these areas is quite difficult to achieve, significantly reducing these disparity can be achieved through various remedies. The following recommendations can significantly help in reducing wage gaps brought about by gender, race, and ethnicity issues.

First, the government, the civil societies, and other stakeholders should press the congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act bill that has been pending many years. The Civil Rights Act outlaws various form of discrimination but still it lack some provision that would tackle issues of all forms of discrimination appropriately. This bill would ensure that women get equal pay they deserve for the equal job they do.

They “put gender-based wage discrimination on par with other forms of wage discrimination, such as that based on race, by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages, rather than just for back pay; Limit the legitimate reasons employers can give in court for wage disparities; and, Prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss their wages” (Hall, 2010).

This bill will empower legal and organizational mechanisms for addressing wage disparity across gender, race, and ethnicity, something that will enable workers to earn what they rightfully deserve, enhancing their economic security, and gradually aiding the country’s economic recovery.

Secondly, the government and the community at large should empower existing or come up with programs that can enlighten people about their rights, offer career mentoring, and improve the financial literacy of all workers. These would be powerful tools in ensuring that workers are able to advocate for equal pay for equal job, making right career choices or move, and investing in what they earn for their future and that of the country.

Thirdly, professional bodies should regularly sponsor and organize forums involving all stakeholders from local to national level, to discuss and evaluate the gender-related issues and to formulate ways of eliminating wage disparities in the work place (Gibelman, 2003, P.28). Lastly, the government should encourage more women to venture in male dominated careers such as engineering, architecture, in efforts to earn better pay and bridge the wage gaps between the two genders.


Government through it programs for monitoring wage discrimination and other form of employment discrimination should be conducting several checks in all workplaces and ensure that these vices are eliminated and these programs should always be on going to ensure that wage discriminations has been eliminated and it does not resurface.

Wage disparity being a social problem all the involved parties’ i.e. employers, employees, government, professional bodies and the community should cultivating a culture of continued engagement among all the parties to ensure that issues of wage disparity are addressed in all places. Since wage disparities cannot be accounted by the differences in skills, all organizations embrace proper unbiased performance appraisal systems for their employees, which will reward only the deserving individuals rather than an ascribed group of individuals due to their association


Alon, S. & Tienda, M. (2005). Job Mobility and Early Career Wage Growth of White, African-American, and Hispanic Women. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 86, p1196-1217, 22p. Web.

Anon. (2003). Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2002, 2003. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Coleman, M. G. (2003). Job Skill and Black Male Wage Discrimination. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 84(4), p892-906, 15p. Blackwell Publishing Limited. Web.

Gibelman, M. (2003). So How Far Have We Come? Pestilent and Persistent Gender Gap in Pay. Social Work, Vol. 48 Issue 1, p22-32, 11p. Web.

Gibelman, M. & Schervish, P. H. (1997). Who are we: A second look. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Hall, M. (2010). Obama to Push Congress on Pay-Fairness Bill. USA Today, 07/20/2010. Web.

Howard, L. (2004). Tennessee Economic Council on Women. Web.

Karsten, M. F. (2006). [Three Volumes] [3 Volumes]: Issues and Challenges for Today’s Organizations. USA. Greenwood Publishing Group. Web.

Mason, P. L. (1999). Male Interracial Wage Differentials: Competing Explanations. Cambridge. Journal of Economics, Vol. 23, p261–299.

Romero, M. & Margolis, E., 2005. The Blackwell companion to social inequalities. NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

U. S. General Accounting Office. (2003). Women’s Earnings: Work Patterns Partially Explain Difference between Men’s and Women’s Earnings. Web.

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