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Despite Strides by U.S. Women, Wage Gap Remains
Women's earnings are a higher percentage of family income

By Stephen Miller  3/4/2011

Women in the U.S. are gaining ground educationally and economically, but men still make more money on average, according to a March 2011 White House report Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being.

"Women have not only caught up with men in college attendance, but younger women are now more likely than younger men to have a college or a master's degree. Yet, these gains in education and labor force involvement have not yet translated into wage and income equity," wrote Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, and Christina Tchen, chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, in their foreword to the report, prepared by the U. S. Department of Commerce and the Office of Management and Budget for the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Jarrett and Tchen noted, in particular, the report's findings that:

The number of women and men in the labor force has nearly equalized in recent years. As women’s work has increased, their earnings constitute a growing share of family income.

At all levels of education, women earned about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009. In part because of these lower earnings and in part because unmarried and divorced women are the most likely to have responsibility for raising and supporting children, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. These economic inequities are even more acute for women of color.

Women live longer than men but are more likely to face certain health problems, such as mobility impairments, arthritis, asthma, depression and obesity. Many women do not receive specific recommended preventive care, and one out of seven women ages 18-64 has no usual source of health care. Moreover, the share of women in that age range without health insurance has increased.

Education Pays, as Pay Gap Narrows

The earnings gap between women and men has narrowed over time but still remains, the report shows. Among full-time U.S. wage and salary workers, women’s weekly earnings as a percent of men’s have increased from 62 percent in 1979 to 80 percent in 2009 (women, however, work fewer weeks per year than men).

Earnings for women and men typically increase with higher levels of education. But at all levels of education, women working full time earned annually about 75 percent as much as their male counterparts in 2009.

However, the earnings gap between women and men narrowed for most age groups from 1979 to 2009:

Narrower Gap

The earnings gap between women and men narrowed for most age groups from 1979 to 2009.

 

1979

2009

Women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio among 25- to 34-year-olds

68%

89%

Women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio among 45- to 54-year-olds

57%

74%

Compared to the earnings of all men (of all race and ethnic groups), black women earned 71 percent and Hispanic women earned 62 percent as much as all men in 2009. White and Asian women earned 82 percent and 95 percent as much as all men, respectively.

Compared to their direct male counterparts, white women earned 79 percent as much as white men in 2009, while Asian women earned 82 percent as much as Asian men. For blacks and Hispanics, the figures were 94 percent and 90 percent, respectively.

Additional Findings

Among other factors pertaining to women's earning and income levels highlighted in the report:

Women's contribution to family income increases. As women’s earnings have risen, working wives’ contributions to their family incomes have increased. In 2008, working wives contributed 29 percent of their families’ incomes, up by 5 percentage points from 1988, when wives’ earnings accounted for 24 percent of their families’ total incomes.

The proportion of wives earning more than their husbands also has grown. In 1988, 18 percent of working wives whose husbands worked earned more than their spouses; in 2008, the proportion was 27 percent.

Greater family responsibilities. In 2009, on the days that they worked, employed married women ages 25 to 54 spent less time at work-related activities than did employed married men in the same age group—7 hours, 40 minutes for women vs. 8 hours, 50 minutes for men.

Employed wives spent about 40 minutes more time than did their male counterparts doing household activities such as cooking, housework and household management.

More women than men work part time. Historically, women have been more likely than men to work part time (less than 35 hours per week). In 2009, 24 percent of employed women (age 20 and older) worked part time vs. 11 percent of men.

Women and men continue to work in different occupations. While women are three times more likely to work in administrative support jobs than men, relatively few women have construction, production or transportation jobs.

While women are more likely than men to work in professional and related occupations, they are more highly represented in the lower-paying jobs within this category. For example, in 2009:

Professional women were more likely (nearly 70 percent) to work in the relatively low-paying education (with $887 median weekly earnings) and health care ($970 median weekly earnings) occupations vs. 32 percent of male professionals.

Only 7 percent of female professionals were employed in the relatively high-paying computer ($1,253 median weekly earnings) and engineering ($1,266 median weekly earnings) fields vs. 38 percent of male professionals.

On a positive note, the proportion of women working in management, business and finance jobs increased from 9 percent to 14 percent from 1983 through 2009.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

'Motherhood Gap' Explains Differences in Gender Wages, SHRM Online Compensation Discipline, October 2010

Five Reasons to Focus on Pay Equity, SHRM Online Compensation Discipline, March 2010

Women Still Playing Catch-Up, Report Finds, SHRM Online Diversity Discipline, February 2010

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