Every year, the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) publicizes its “Equal Pay Day” to bring public attention to the gender pay gap. This year, “Equal Pay Day” occurs today, April 9, and represents how far into 2013 the average woman would supposedly have to continue working to earn the same income that the average man earned last year. Inspired by Equal Pay Day, in 2010 I introduced “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” to bring public attention to the huge gender disparity in work-related deaths every year in the United States. “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” tells us how many years into the future women would have to work before they would experience the same number of occupational fatalities that occurred in the previous year for men.
Based on the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on workplace fatalities for 2011 (and assuming those fatality data will be similar in 2012), an “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” can be calculated. As in previous years, the chart above shows the significant gender disparity in workplace fatalities: 4,234 men died on the job (92% of the total) in 2011 compared to only 375 women (8% of the total). The “gender occupational fatality gap” in 2011 was considerable — more than 11 men died on the job for every woman who died while working.
Based on the BLS data, the next “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” will occur more than ten years from now — on April 17, 2023. That date symbolizes how far into the future women will be able to continue working before they experience the same estimated loss of life that men experienced in 2012 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 male occupational fatalities in a single year.
Economic theory tells us that the “gender occupational fatality gap” explains part of the “gender pay gap” because a disproportionate number of men work in higher-risk, but higher-paid occupations like coal mining (almost 100% male), fire fighters (95% male), police officers (87% male), correctional officers (72% male), farming, fishing, and forestry (77% male), and construction (97.5% male); BLS data here. On the other hand, a disproportionate number of women work in relatively low-risk industries, often with lower pay to partially compensate for the safer, more comfortable indoor office environments in occupations like office and administrative support (73% female), education, training, and library occupations (74% female), and health care (75% female). The higher concentrations of men in riskier occupations with greater occurrences of workplace injuries and fatalities suggest that more men than women are willing to expose themselves to those work-related injuries or death in exchange for higher wages. In contrast, women more than men prefer lower risk occupations with greater workplace safety, and are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the reduced probability of work-related injury or death.
Bottom Line: Groups like the NCPE use “Equal Pay Day” to promote a 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 mining. The reality is that a reduction in the gender pay gap would come at a huge cost: several thousand more women will be killed each year working in dangerous occupations.
Here’s a question for the NCPE: Closing the “gender pay gap” could only be achieved by closing the “occupational fatality gap.” Would achieving the goal of pay equity really be worth the loss of life for thousands of additional women each year who would die in work-related accidents?