Every year the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) publicizes “Equal Pay Day” to bring public attention to the gender pay gap. “Equal Pay Day” this year fell on April 12, and represents how far into 2011 the average women had to continue working to earn the same income that the average man earned last year. Inspired by Equal Pay Day, I introduced “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” on the Enterprise Blog in April 2010 to bring attention to the huge gender disparity in work-related deaths in the United States.
Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on workplace fatalities for 2010, and a new “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” can now be calculated. As the chart above shows, there was a significant gender disparity in workplace fatalities last year: 4,192 men died while working (92.2 percent of the total) compared to only 355 women (7.8 percent of the total). The “gender occupational fatality gap” in 2010 was considerable—almost 12 men died on the job for every woman who died while working.
Based on the new BLS data, the next “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” will occur almost 11 years from now—on October 15, 2021. That date symbolizes how far into the future women will be able to continuing working before they experience the same loss of life that men experienced in 2010 from work-related deaths. Because women tend to work in safer occupations than men on average, they have the advantage of being able to work for more than a decade longer than men before they experience the same number of occupational fatalities.
The “gender pay gap” and the “gender occupational fatality gap” are connected, and can be explained by the disproportionate number of men working in higher-risk, higher-paid occupations like coal mining (almost 100 percent male), fire fighters (96 percent male), police officers (87 percent male), correctional officers (74 percent male), farming, fishing, and forestry (77 percent male), and construction (97 percent male); BLS data here. A disproportionate number of women work in lower-risk industries, often with lower pay to partially compensate for the safer, more comfortable indoor office environments in occupations like office and administrative support (74 percent female), education, training, and library occupations (74 percent female), and healthcare (74 percent female). The higher concentrations of men in riskier occupations with greater occurrences of workplace injury and death suggest that more men than women are willing to expose themselves to work-related injury or death in occupations that compensate for those risks with higher wages. On the other hand, it’s possible that women more than men prefer lower risk occupations with greater workplace safety, and are willing to accept lower wages for the reduced probability of injury or death on the job.
Bottom Line: Groups like the NCPE use “Equal Pay Day” to promote their ultimate goal of perfect gender pay equity, probably not realizing that they are simultaneously advocating an increase in the number of women working in higher-paying, but higher-risk occupations like fire-fighting, construction, and coal mining. Unfortunately, reducing the gender pay gap could come at a huge cost: thousands of additional women will be injured or killed while working. Would closing the “gender pay gap,” if it also means closing the “gender occupational fatality gap” and exposing thousands of women to occupational injuries and fatalities each year, really be worth it?