Census shows women undervalue their earnings when they make more than their husbands

As if it isn’t bad enough that women continue to earn less than men for the same work, a recent U.S. Census Bureau report showed that when women earn more than their husbands, they actually lie and report lower salaries. And their husbands do it, too.

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The data comes from a new report that compares census information to tax forms. It showed that in households of heterosexual married couples, if the wife earned more than her husband, both she and her husband reported that he made more. In fact, women and men both docked the wife’s salary, while both also lied and increased the husband’s earnings.

“The fact of the matter is both husbands and wives do this,” Misty Heggeness, report co-author and senior adviser in the Census Bureau’s research department, said to ABC News. “It’s not a phenomenon that is specific to one spouse or the other.”

When it came to self-reporting, husbands increased their pay on average by 2.9 per cent, while wives would decrease their earnings by approximately 1.5 per cent. To put it in perspective, Heggeness wrote in a blog post, that would translate to docking a woman’s salary from $40,000 to $39,400, while it would boost a man’s salary from $30,000 to $30,870.

But this isn’t just about feeding a husband’s ego.

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“We made a critical finding that adds to the understanding of gender norms and the quality of income statistics, in particular, wage gaps among different-sex married couples,” Marta Murray-Close, an economist at the Census Bureau and study co-author, said.

Experts point out that this report is indicative of long-held gender stereotypes in the workplace as well as the home.

“It’s unfortunate that women who earn more than their husbands are reluctant to say so, given the advances they’ve made in higher education and workforce participation,” says Anuradha Dugal, director of Community Initiatives and Policy at the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “More women than men in Canada now have a post-secondary education, and women are much more likely to be gainfully employed than they were in previous generations.”

She says these findings send a message that women’s achievements should be downplayed, which is especially disheartening when you consider that they have likely had to navigate traditional gender barriers to get to where they are.

Dugal points out that women are still responsible for the bulk of work at home, including child and elder care; full-time working women earn 74 cents to every dollar earned by men; 44 per cent of Canadian children live in “daycare deserts,” which makes it more difficult for women to remain in the workforce. These are all barriers, that when overcome, should be celebrated by both women and men.

“Confronting these stereotypes head-on with your partner and dividing labour at home is an important first step to overcoming this, but more needs to be done to create systematic change,” she says.

“This requires businesses, schools and society at large to identify where they may be contributing to the problem and commit to rid their policies and practices of gender discrimination. Legislation that will protect parental leave, guarantee access to affordable, quality childcare, and encourage pay transparency, are all important when it comes to deconstructing these stereotypes.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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