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Why Women Still Earn Less Than Men

Despite decades of activism in the area of women's rights, and mountains of legislation against sexual discrimination, women are still earning -- on average -- 79cents for every dollar earned by men.

March 28, 2001
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Related Topics: Compensation Design and Communication, Diversity
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Superficially, it appears that the gap between men's and women's incomes hasclosed considerably since the equal rights movement of the 1960s. But has it? Anew report by the Economic Policy Institute hints otherwise.

    Despite decades of activism in the area of women's rights, and mountains oflegislation against sexual discrimination, women are still earning -- on average -- 79cents for every dollar earned by men. Statistics provided by the AFL-CIO revealthat, in 65 job categories, female employees do not earn the same or more moneyin any single field. The discrepancies range from the small, $28 a week forbookkeepers and accountants, to the pronounced, $323 a week in the advertisingindustry.

    Critics such as Anita U. Hattiangadi, author of Raising Productivity and RealWages Through Gainsharing (Employment Policy Foundation, 1998), attempt toexplain away pay discrepancies by claiming that figures such as the AFL-CIO'sinclude women who have lost job time and experience due to extended maternityleave. "There is no gender pay gap for full-time workers age 21-35 livingalone, and the gender pay gap is under 3 percent for full-time workers age 21-35without children," Hattiangadi says.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, notes that only 5.1 percent of allwomen in the workforce take more than a week off for any reason-includingmaternity leave-beyond regular vacation time. This is not significantly morethan the 3.3 percent of men who do the same, and seems an inadequatejustification for the disparities.

    According to Net Working: Work Patterns and Workforce Policies for the NewMedia Industry (Economic Policy Institute, 2001),female Internet workers in New York City are earning, on average, $10,000less a year than their male counterparts. Rosemary Batt, an assistant professorof human resource studies at Cornell University and a co-author of the study,finds the discrepancy troublesome. "Along gender lines, the new economydoes not seem to be very different from the old economy," she says.

    Net Working illustrates further flaws. In a usual corollary to thematernity-leave argument, critics such as Hattiangadi have tried tofurther disparage statistics showing gender-based pay disparities byindicating that they're also skewed by attempts to compare people in differentfields, and of different ages and geographic locations.

    In Net Working, a tight control group of working professionals are examined.They all live in New York City, and most are under the age of 40. The workersare evenly numbered along gender lines, and only half are married and/or havedependents. On average, each professional works 53 hours a week and spends 13.5hours of time in unpaid training.

    The study finds that the women had fewer skills and less access to learningtools and software. Conversely, women have been entering college in greaternumbers than men since 1996, and graduating in roughly equal numbers since theearly 1980s, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even thoughgender disparities do not appear in college enrollment or grades, they arecontinuing in the workplace.

    "For the purposes of our study," Batt says, "we don't have thecapacity to know why that gap exists."

Workforce, April 2001, p. 31Subscribe Now!

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