Could teens hold the answers to closing the wage gap?

You’d think we’d have figured this out by now, but a wage gap between men and women still exists, and among some groups of workers it’s pretty deep. And since we haven’t yet solved the problem, my hopes are not particularly high that my contemporaries — the middle-aged crowd — hold the answers to closing the gap.

But is it possible that my teenage son’s contemporaries can figure it out? My instinct was to quickly conclude, “Oh no. On any given day, about a third of the kids in my son’s high school haven’t even figured out that they’re walking around with their flies open.” But, and it hurts me to admit this, I might be wrong. At least the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) thinks I might be wrong.

Here’s the state of the current problem: Last week, U.S. News cited a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that “among the 20 most popular occupations for women workers, they only out-earn men in one field: bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks.”

Further, though 96 percent of secretaries and administrative assistants are women, those women only earn about 86 percent of what men earn, according to the story.

Often, the gap is created by societal norms, such as the division of duties when it comes to child rearing or caring for sick family members, or maintaining a household, which often are still considered primarily women’s work.

The disparity is even greater among low-wage workers and some minority groups. The story says that women overall earn $10,800 less per year than men. But African American women earn $19,600 less, and Latinas earn $23,900 less.

But here’s the possible solution: teenagers. To try to figure out why the gap is still larger than we’d like, and how to close it, the EEOC is asking young people to weigh in.

Tomorrow, the EEOC is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Take your Child to Work Day by inviting teenagers to its Denver Field Office to participate in a dialogue for solutions on how to bridge the gender wage gap in America.

According to the EEOC, suggestions from this forum will be sent to the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force in Washington, D.C.

The reason the teenagers may hold the keys to solving the problem is that they are an unbiased group, said Denver EEOC Field Director Nancy Sienko.

She might be right about that. Not only are teenagers mostly untarnished by many of life’s experiences (think: child-rearing, dealing with serious illness, and meeting the responsibility of making ends meet in a recession), but among young people, women have now for the first time surpassed men in how much value they place on earning a lot of money.

An April 23 story on The Job Mouse website reported that young women value high-paying careers more than their male counterparts.

The story says that when asked if career is high on their list of life priorities, 66 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 said yes. That number has been growing, according to the story.

But the key to true equality has often been thought to lie with the men. When young men’s priorities — about work and career, child rearing and housekeeping — match those of women, then household responsibilities and wage earning will start to look more balanced between the sexes.

The Job Mouse reported that 59 percent of young men, when asked about life priorities, answered that career is high on the list.

So my mother’s generation opened the doors, mine walked through them and now view work outside the home as a necessity, and perhaps my teenage son’s generation will be the one that finally figures it all out. Let’s hope so.

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