Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana ranked 46th of 50 in women's equality

  • Sept. 2, 2014

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Lauren Slavin

Women in Indiana are missing 26.7 cents.

That’s the wage gap for Hoosiers, as calculated by the National Women’s Law Center, according to 2012 United States census data. The “wage gap” is defined as the additional money a woman would have to make for every dollar made by a man in order to have equal annual earnings.

Such disparities in pay, education, health care and leadership opportunities, among other metrics, led personal finance website WalletHub to rank Indiana 46th out of the 50 states in women’s equality, with 50th being the “worst” state.

“Bloomington has identified issues and is working on them, whereas other parts of the state don’t even recognize the inequality that goes on,” said Doris Wittenburg, president of the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County. “Women have just not been empowered to try to correct those inequalities.”

Women’s role in the workforce has changed dramatically in the 94 years since the 19th Amendment was adopted into the Constitution, which is celebrated on Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day. WalletHub ranked Indiana 48th out of 50 in the category of “workplace environment,” which comprises median weekly earnings, number of executives, average work hours for full-time workers, number of minimum-wage workers and unemployment rate.

Wittenburg remembers growing up in a time when “women weren’t allowed to do certain jobs just because they were women.”

“Fortunately, that has changed, but not completely,” she said.

The median annual income of a woman in Indiana is $33,419, compared with a man’s $45,620, according to 2012 American Community Survey Data from the United States Census Bureau. However, statistics on the gender wage gap can be misleading, according to Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a professor of labor and employment law in the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University who was quoted as an expert in the WalletHub study.

Because the WalletHub report deals in averages, the statistics can appear to show that women are always paid less for the same work as their male counterparts. In reality, factors such as the role women take in providing child care can influence the number of hours they work and their overall years of job experience, affecting future job promotion opportunities.

“These differences in roles have big impacts on work hours, numbers of years you work and the professions you choose to go into,” Dau-Schmidt said.

Dau-Schmidt’s paper “The Kid Factor,” published in The American Lawyer in 2008, detailed research on how men and women lawyers commit to child care. Dau-Schmidt and his co-authors found that in families with children, women are much more likely to interrupt their careers and work fewer hours once they return to work, while men with kids actually increase the number of hours they work.

“Rightly or wrongly, once kids arrive, the women work many less hours while the men work many more hours, on average,” Dau-Schmidt said. “It is thus not too surprising that the male lawyers enjoy a higher average income than the women lawyers and are more likely to become a managing partner.”

However, whereas men often choose careers based on income, women prioritize flexibility in work hours and job satisfaction. Dau-Schmidt found that “the women who interrupt their careers to do child care and then work less hours afterward are actually the happiest of all these groups, both with their careers and with work/family balance.”

“Long hours of paid work tend to result in compensation, but they also tend to make people less happy,” he said.

Closing the gap in which parent provides primary child care could be a gender equalizer among working families, Dau-Schmidt said. The lack of time off provided to mothers for child care is an example of workforce discrimination, according to Wittenburg, especially in cases of families headed by single mothers. Female headed households with no husband present and children younger than 18 make up 4.7 percent of Bloomington households, according to census data.

“If they don’t have a spouse, if they are the sole provider and not making the income they need to, that hurts the whole family,” Wittenburg said. “If our country wants or claims to be family-oriented, the corporations have to do something about making it easier to actually rear children and give them a good footing when they’re young.”

Indiana’s highest ranking in terms of women’s equality in the WalletHub study was in the category of “education and health,” which is made up of the number of residents aged 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and life expectancy at age 65. The American Community Survey estimated that from 2008 to 2012, 25.1 percent of women 25 years or older in Bloomington had a bachelor’s degree, and 29.2 percent had a graduate degree or higher.

“If they don’t get the education that they need, they’re always going to be going backwards and not making headway,” Wittenburg said.

Release of the WalletHub study on women's equality coincided with Women’s Equality Day on Tuesday, which marks the anniversary of former Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certifying the ratification of 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote. 

The Bloomington Commission on the Status of Women and the Monroe County Women’s Commission rededicated a plaque Tuesday commemorating the125th anniversary of suffragette Susan B. Anthony’s visit to Bloomington on Nov. 10 and 11,1887, when Anthony spoke at the First General Convention of Women in Monroe County. The plaque was originally installed in 2012 on the wall of the Redmen building, between Athena and Williams Brothers Jewelry, but had been taken down for recent renovations.

“I think it’s an important reminder that women like Susan B. Anthony struggled for decades, were ridiculed … in order to achieve a basic right, and we can’t take that for granted,” said Efrat Feferman, chair of the Monroe County Women's Commission. “What a great opportunity to celebrate Women’s Equality Day and remind ourselves of Bloomington and Monroe counties small role in this historic period of time and this iconic leader of the suffrage movement.”

But earning the right to vote by no means ended the women’s equality movement. Women across the country still fight for access to health care, control of their reproductive rights and aim to end discrimination in the workplace, Doris Wittenburg, president of the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County, said.

“One of the problems is people in some communities don’t believe that women can do the job, even though we’re really, I guess, a majority of the population,” she said. “It’s still hard to be taken seriously in a lot of respects.”