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The doubly high cost of being female

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The 1975 song "I Am Woman" noted that women have "paid the price." Unfortunately, it's clear that women are far from done paying the price for their gender: They still work for lower wages than men and incur higher costs for everything from clothing to health care.

A woman starting her career today stands to lose more than $430,000 over her working years due to the gender wage gap (when women earn less than men for doing the same job), according to a new report from the National Women's Law Center. The lifetime loss of earnings is even worse for women of color. Latinas lose more than $1 million in wages, while black women lose more than $877,000.

At the same time, women are paying more for the same products and services as men, thanks to marketing tricks that end up being little more than gender price-gouging. Products marketed to women and girls -- think of pink razors or bikes -- cost about 7 percent more than otherwise identical products sold to men, according to a December report from the New York Department of Consumer Affairs. In some states, women pay a tax on tampons, while other personal care products such as Rogaine and dandruff shampoo are exempt.

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Women face "a double penalty," said Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice at the National Women's Law Center. "It certainly is the case that women are less able to afford a more expensive razor than men."

The issue expands into almost every area of a woman's life, including reproductive rights and child care, given that women not only often bear the cost of birth control but also the cost of raising a child. When couples decide whether to pay for preschool, for instance, it's often the woman's salary that covers the expense, even in a two-earner household.

"These are costs that women bear, and women are already less able to afford it because they earn less," Martin said. "Addressing those costs are also part of achieving economic equality."

Women now earn about 79 cents for every $1 that men earn, which is the smallest difference between the genders since 1960. Yet progress on narrowing that gap has stalled out in recent years, despite the fact that more women now graduate from college than men.

Partially explaining the pay gap are factors such as occupational choice, although Martin argues that it also reflects how men and women are employed in different fields, underscoring one aspect of gender inequality. Men, for instance, are more likely to be employed in higher-paying fields like technology, while women are overrepresented in lower-paying service jobs.

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That gender bias often starts at young ages, such as when teachers make assumptions about skills and leadership ability based on gender, rather than talent.

Even comparing men and women on an apples-to-apples basis -- such as engineers of both genders with similar experience and educations -- women earn less than their male counterparts, employment site Glassdoor found in a March study. Even after controlling for issues such as age and education, women are paid more than 5 percent less than men, it found.

Despite research that has confirmed the gender pay bias, some workers -- both male and female -- resist believing in the phenomenon. That could be due to the fact that many Americans like to think they're paid purely on merit, rather than because of issues they can't control, such as gender or race.

"People feel a little threatened by the idea that this is not necessarily a rational merit-based decision-making process that employers engage in," Martin said. "People like the idea that I'm in control of my destiny, and whatever I achieve is what I've done because of my own work."

She added: "We hope these numbers will be a call to action. It makes clear the enormous price tag of unequal pay."

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