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Are women really paid only 77 cents for each dollar men are paid?

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Do women really earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men?It’s fairly common to hear that women are only paid 77 cents for each dollar that men earn. While this number comes from the Census Bureau and is based on solid data, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t account for factors such as education and experience.

Indeed, when you start digging into the data a little bit, you find that there are a number of causes that influence the pay gap between men and women. And, while it’s definitely there, it might not be as big — or quite as sinister — as we think.

Why are women paid less than men?

In a paper published a few years ago, Cornell University professors Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, who’ve been studying and writing about this issue for more than two decades, broke down different factors influencing the difference between compensation for men and women.

The biggest reason for an overall gender pay gap (other than the “unexplained” catch-all, which was 41.1 percent) is occupational category. Women are more likely to be employed in lower-paying jobs, such as secretaries, teachers, paralegals, and work in the social sciences. Men, on the other hand, traditionally work in higher-paying fields, like engineering, math, science and technology.

Occupational category accounts for 27.4 percent of the gap, according to this research. Industry category, which is also related the types of chosen by women and men, accounts for 21.9 percent of the gap. When you think about a difference between what women and men are making, career field plays a huge role.

Other factors that influence the pay gap include union status (3.5 percent of the gap), since men are more likely to be a part of unions and receive wage protection, and race (2.4 percent of the gap). Labor force experience also accounts for a hefty chunk of the gap, at 10.5 percent. Speculation is that women are more likely to take time out of the workforce to raise children or care for aging relatives. The fact that women are more likely to work part-time, or drop out of the workforce for years at a time, means that they see decreased earning power.

The researchers noted, however, that women have been closing the experience gap since the 1980s. And, by now, the education gap has been largely closed, since more women than men now earn degrees.

So what’s the result of all of these factors contributing to the gender gap? According to the study, once all of these factors are accounted for, the gender pay gap shrinks to the point that women earn 91 cents for every dollar that men make, when you actually consider women truly doing the same work, at the same level, as their male counterparts.

Even if Blau and Kahn are right, though, the fact remains that women still earn less than men — even when they do the same work. What do you think of this assertion? Do you think that the gender pay gap is closing?

(Photo: Flickr user daveynin)

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7 Responses to “Are women really paid only 77 cents for each dollar men are paid?”

  1. Robert says:

    I think in the past and even sometimes today, woman are the primary caregivers when there are children present. That being the case, if your boss asks you if you can go on company travel at the last minute, it can be more difficult for women to accommodate that request. Whereas many men have more freedom to be able to go at a moments notice. That in turn makes the man more valuable (and more highly paid) than the woman. Not that the man can do a better job, but because he was able to go. There is some truth to that.

  2. I think it is a lot closer than it used to be. Hopefully a man and woman who have the same exact experience, future and everything else are paid the same, but I doubt that’d happen. I think it really depends on the individuals.

  3. Rob Berger says:

    This is a refreshing take on a thorny issue. I’m always surprised to see the pay gap. From my experience, I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a company where men and women were paid differently for the same job, at least as far as I knew.

  4. Huskervball says:

    The Old Boys Network still is alive and well. It is cozier to hang out with other guys (even though they are underlings) than to hang out with women.

    I am amazed by the prevalence of hiring sons of friends. Another factor in inequal pay. Women have not risen to higher ranks and so do not have as much capability in raising salaries for other women.

  5. Thanks for providing a balanced look at the issue.

    Most employers care most about attracting and retaining talented capable workers. I find it hard to believe that the free market would allow for any systemic bias against talented people who just happen to be female.

  6. freeby50 says:

    Kevin, The free market has not historically done little or nothing to stop discrimination in the workplace. Things have gradually improved by I don’t think the free market did much to help.

  7. freeby50 says:

    OOps, I had an extra ‘not’ in that last reply.

    I meant:
    The free market has historically done little or nothing to stop discrimination in the workplace.


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