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The Gender Income Gap: Are Women Really Making Less than Men for the Same Job?

It's been 85 years since women gained the right to vote, 24 years since the first woman was appointed to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981), and 42 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 required equal wages for men and women doing equal work.


Women make about 80 cents for every dollar men make.

Yet today in 2005, women are still behind men when it comes to wages. According to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2003, for every dollar that a man makes, a woman makes about 80 cents.

For women between the ages of 45 and 54, the gap gets even wider: women make only 73 cents for every dollar men make.

The Gap is Not Narrowing

It was thought that the income gap between men and women was getting smaller. After all, in 1979 the women's-to-men's earnings ratio was just 63 percent, and it increased to 80 percent in 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the gap is actually getting wider for the first time since 1995. From 2002 to 2003, they found that median annual earnings for full-time women workers actually decreased by 0.6 percent to $30,724. Men's earnings, however, stayed constant at $40,668.

This represents a 1.4-percent decrease in the gender-wage ratio, they say.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, commented:

"Women continue to take a major hit in the on-going economic slowdown. No progress on the wage ratio has been made since 2001, and women actually lost ground this year [2004]. Falling real wages for women indicate a decline in the quality of their jobs. The economic recovery continues to disadvantage women by failing to provide strong job growth at all wage levels."

Not as Bad as it Sounds?

Some say, however, that there are real reasons why women may earn less than men, and that there are actually many fields in which women earn more.

One of the most controversial speakers on this topic is gender expert Warren Farrell, Ph.D., who's written the book "Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap--and What Women Can Do About It."

Although he acknowledges that discrimination may play a role in some circumstances, his basic premise is that woman may make choices that make them earn less--without realizing it. Twenty-five different choices are outlined, including:

  • How many hours are put in at work

  • Taking a risky or hazardous assignment

  • Willingness to relocate or commute a long way

  • Training for a technical job that has less social contact

In his book, Farrell also points out some other statistics that seem to explain why women sometimes make less:

Woman Cash

Do women earn less than men because they're more likely to take time off for family reasons?

  • Women are eight times more likely than men to spend four or more years away from the work world.

  • Women are nearly nine times more likely than men to leave work for six months or more for family reasons. Upon returning, an income loss of about 33 percent is typical.

In fact, he says that many times women actually earn more:

  • There are 90 fields that pay women more than men.

  • There are 39 fields in which women earn more than 5 percent more than men.

  • Female sales engineers earn 143 percent of male sales engineers.

  • Female part-time workers earn $1.10 for every dollar a male part-time worker makes.

Women who choose non-traditional careers may be the best off. According to the Labor Department, women dentists (who make up just 20 percent of the field), airline pilots and navigators (less than 4 percent of the field) may make lifetime earnings that are 150 percent higher than women in traditional careers.

However, what is comes down to may be the simple fact that women are less willing to make sacrifices at home or in their personal lives to make more money.

Says Farrell, "Women and men look at their life, and women say, 'What do I need? Do I need more money, or do I need more time?' And women are intelligent enough to say, I need more time. And so women lead balanced lives, men should be learning from women."

What Can Women Do?

For women looking to earn more money, the American Management Association has adapted points from Farrell's book into Eight Tips for Women. Here are some highlights:

  • Choose a field with a high emotional and financial risk (doctors, lawyers, etc.).

  • Choose a field that's rooted in the hard sciences, not the social sciences (computer scientists earn more than teachers, for instance).

  • Be willing to travel and relocate if necessary.

  • Put in more hours.

Still some say that it is the employers' responsibility to give women (and men) the time to raise a family and still succeed at work equally.

Says Hilary Lips, Ph.D, a professor of psychology, chair of the psychology department, and director of the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University:

"If women and men continue to accept the notion that the domestic and caretaking work traditionally classified as "women's work" is not important enough for employers to accommodate, the gender gap in wages will never close ... The most important step in closing the wage gap is for all of us to give up the notion that, to be paid fairly, a woman must 'make it in a man's world.'"

Recommended Reading

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Bankrate: Girls Just Wanna Have Financial Security

Gender Wage Gap Widening

American Management Association

The Gender Wage Gap: Debunking the Rationalizations

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