Three Important Ways That Equal Pay Is Connected To Reproductive Health

Today is Equal Pay Day — the day that reflects the number of days women must work into the current year to earn the same salary that their male counterparts earned the previous year. Women earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by men. African American and Hispanic women earn 69 cents and 52.9 cents respectively for every dollar white men earn. This gap has remained in part because women also make up the highest number of employees in low wage jobs. These lower wage jobs rarely offer long term employment stability, health insurance, or retirement savings benefits.

The result: fewer choices for women on all fronts, including reproductive health. Conversely, better access to reproductive health care helps to reduce the wage gap. Consider these facts:

1. The gender pay gap has narrowed in part due to reproductive health access. While women’s wages lag behind men’s, there is evidence that the long-term narrowing of the wage gap is in part due to women’s ability to control their fertility and time their pregnancies. The introduction of the birth control pill and the legalization of safe abortion allowed women to enter the formal work economy en masse in the 60’s and 70’s. A 2012 study credits birth control for approximately a third of the wage gains made by women since the ‘60s. Within just one generation, most women were able to control their reproductive destinies, delaying pregnancy and marriage to further invest in their educational goals and career development, which in turn lowered the wage gap.

2. The gender pay gap limits a woman’s ability to determine if and when she will have children and the spacing of those children. Higher wages increase a woman’s ability access to quality, affordable health insurance and comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion care and contraception. But when women are paid less and work in jobs that do not offer health benefits, they may not be able to afford the reproductive health care that would help them plan their pregnancies. Women of reproductive age expend 68 percent more on health care than their male counterparts, and more than half of women surveyed in one study went without care because of cost. The pay gap deprives women of money they could use to spend on their health care.

3. The gender pay gap is linked to poor reproductive health outcomes. Socioeconomic status is closely linked to reproductive health outcomes. We see higher concentrations of unintended pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and cervical cancer rates among poor women. Their low income, along with restrictive policies on reproductive health services, institutional barriers such as racism and sexism, lack of health insurance, and other impediments to care, are just a few of the contributing factors to these reproductive health outcomes. Achieving pay equity is one part of the equation to lifting women out of poverty and into the middle class, where they would have greater opportunities to address their reproductive health care needs.

Our guest blogger is Heidi Williamson, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights program at the Center for American Progress.