A woman who works full-time earns almost $11,000 less each year than her male counterparts, a difference that adds up to nearly a half-million dollars over the course of a career, and nowhere is the gender gap more apparent than in rural areas of the United States, according to a Congressional report released this month.
Women working the same jobs as men earn much less in the rural states of Louisiana (35 percent), West Virginia (23 percent), Utah (21 percent) and Wyoming (21 percent). The gender gap is smallest in urban areas like Washington, D.C., (10 percent) and New York (13 percent).
Education does not appear to be a factor. Women earn less at every educational level and it’s not unusual for women to be out-earned by men who are less educated than they are. For example, on average, a woman with a graduate degree earns $5,000 less than men who hold a bachelor’s degree.
The gap is even worse for women of color. While women in general earn only 79 cents for each dollar earned by men, for African American women, that number shrinks to about 60 cents for every dollar earned. Hispanic women fare even worse, earning only 55 cents on the dollar.
Several factors appear to contribute to this difference. For example, women who take a break from the workforce to raise their children are more likely to miss out on scheduled or merit pay increases, and women often still choose lower-paying, female-dominated jobs.
Experience and chosen field are not evidence of employer discrimination against women, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Economists believe various forms of bias — from hiring discrimination to setting lower pay levels for certain jobs — account for 40 percent of the gender pay gap.
“Statistical studies have shown that predominantly female jobs pay less to both the men and women in them, than comparably skilled, but somewhat different, predominantly male jobs,” said Paula England, professor of sociology at New York University. “So it seems like who’s in the jobs affects what pay level they’ll set for the whole job. Research has also shown that if the same occupation starts getting higher percent female in it, that occupation starts to pay less.”
Instead of narrowing with age, the gender pay gap appears to widen as women get older. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 earn 88 percent of what the men make, however, women older than 35 earn only 76 percent. This has serious implications for women in retirement, who face an income gap of 44 percent once they retire, leaving them more at risk of experiencing poverty in old age.
The report suggests the gender pay discrepancy could be narrowed if the United States adopted more family-friendly workplace policies, including universal child care and flexible workplace arrangements, which would make it easier for parents to balance the demands of work and home. Such changes could also ensure that women are not penalized for becoming mothers and taking care of their families.
Although the Equal Pay Act requiring that women receive equal pay as men for “substantially equal” work, was signed into law in June 1963, the report estimates the gender pay gap won’t actually close until the year 2059, almost a century after the notion of equal pay for equal work was made the law of the land.
The continuing gender pay gap, and the time it will take to close it, suggest something about what U.S. employers hold in high regard.
“The sense that the value of the job gets lowered if the job is being done mostly by women sort-of says we value things more when they’re being done by men, including jobs,” said England. “So, in that sense, I think it shows a sort-of sexism in our values.”
Interactive: See gender pay gap in each state
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