Any reader of the news frequently hears that women earn 77 cents on the male dollar. Fifteen years ago, an organization called the National Committee on Pay Equity marked April 20 “Equal Pay Day,” because that is the day on which the average working woman will make her “full” salary (meaning it takes her 15+ months to earn what men do in 12). In 1999, full-time working women earned 72.2 cents when compared to full-time working men, so earning the current amount of 77 cents on the male dollar is some improvement. But does that tell the whole story?
Some economists say that the situation is not as bad as many make it out to be. Those economists point out that it is simply a comparison of median income of full time workers. It doesn’t account for things like education and experience. When education and experience are accounted for, the pay gap closes to 81 female cents on the male dollar. Of course, that still compares workers across different industries and occupations. When you account for industry, occupation, and union membership, the pay gap drops as women earn 91 cents to the male dollar. Getting closer, but that’s about as high as it goes for women.
So what are the causes of this pay gap? The differences are so wide in part because, traditionally, men tended to cloister in high-paying fields. For example, men were more likely to major in high paying fields like business, engineering, or go on to professional schools for medicine or law. Educated women were, traditionally, more likely to enter fields that paid slightly less, such as nursing or social work.
Today, that seems to be changing. Women now make up one of every three doctors, 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs, and 54 percent of all accountants. That trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, either, if we look at education as an indicator. For every two men who earn a bachelor’s degree this year, three women will do the same. Women also account for roughly half of all students of medicine and law. Women earn 60 percent of master’s degrees and 42 percent of MBA’s. Every single statistic shows that women will continue to become better and better represented in high-paying fields.
Yet, there are particular fields in which women are still underrepresented, and those fields tend to pay big. For example, women account for only 25.8 percent of mathematical and computer occupations and 12.9 percent of architecture and engineering occupations. Most jobs in computing and mathematics are high-qualification, high-paying jobs: actuaries, computer scientists, network administrators, software engineers, etc. Architects and engineers similarly earn high dollar wages.
Finally, the economy may be shifting in ways that will benefit female job growth. Of the 15 US job categories expected to see the most growth in the next 10 years, 13 are currently staffed by a larger portion of women. Shocking proof of this shift came when the great recession hit: the vast majority of jobs lost were filled by men. And this stands to reason because the construction and manufacturing sectors were among the hardest hit, so much so that some writers have referred to the recession as the “mancession.” Men are also the great majority of new hires, moving some writers to playfully refer to the economic recovery as the “he-covery.” All in all, men are down 4.1 million jobs, and women are down 2.3 million.
For the individual worker, the lessons are all the same: maximize your earning power through education that pays a premium in your field, and educate yourself about career advancement. Aggressively market yourself, know salaries within your field, and negotiate hard for the salary you deserve.
As a final thought, check out this map prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau on the wage disparities by state between men and women:
Published or updated March 15, 2013.