Domestic Violence Has a Huge Impact on the Wage Gap

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Domestic violence is one of several factors that make the wage gap worse.Photo: Nick Clements

There are lots of reasons women get paid less than men: Because they’re edged out of male-dominated fields; because they have a kid; or because they’re forced to work fewer hours. A new report from McKinsey & Company lists several of these factors, but it also includes one that isn’t talked about quite as often: domestic violence.

According to the report, as many as one in three women experience violence at the hands of a partner, and women are much more likely than men to experience domestic violence — 91 percent of victims of rape and sexual violence are female. “There is a direct correlation between violence and the financial piece,” one of the report’s authors told Fast Company. “Women who suffer violence are likely to see an impact on their earning potential due to lost productivity and lost work days.”

Women who experience violence at home are more likely to appear unreliable at work, said Lisalyn Jacobs, the CEO of Just Solutions, a social-justice advocacy group. For instance, a woman with visible injuries is more likely to call in sick than to explain what happened. And the more excuses she invents, the more likely her employer will see her as unreliable. “That causes an employer to do a cost-benefit analysis around whether to keep you employed,” Jacobs said. “This can have an effect on employment history and whether someone gets promoted or is eligible for a raise.”

Victims of domestic violence are also more likely to lose their jobs; between 25 and 50 percent of domestic-violence survivors report job loss, according to Northwestern University’s Joint Center for Poverty Research. After losing one job, it becomes increasingly difficult to find another, and unemployment becomes a vicious cycle that exacerbates the wage gap. And that cycle has a real impact on our country’s GDP:

Using data from a CDC report, McKinsey’s analysts calculated that violence against women costs about $4.9 billion in the United States annually. Seventy percent of this comes from direct medical costs, 15% from lost productivity, and 15% from lost earnings over women’s lifetimes.

To combat the problem, advocates say employers should look for warning signs of abuse before assuming an employee is flaky. “Know the warning signs,” said Ellen Bravo, the director of an organization that advocates for paid leave. “Make it a safe place for someone to tell the right person, ‘I’m in trouble and it may affect my attendance and performance and it’s not because I’m not a good employee.’”