Male-female income disparity in the United States

Male-female income disparity, also referred to as a "gender gap in earnings", in the United States, also known as the "gender wage gap," the "gender earnings gap" and the "gender pay gap", is used by government agencies and economists to refer to statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau, as part of the Current Population Survey, comparing median male wages to median female wages. The gender gap is usually expressed as the ratio of female to male earnings among full-time, year-round (FTYR) workers.

So, for example, in 2004 the median income of FTYR male workers was $40,798, compared to $31,223 for FTYR female workers (DeNavas-Walt et al, 2005). 31,223 divided by 40,798 is .765, so the gender earnings gap in 2004 was .765. This is often expressed as a percentage: e.g., "in 2004, women's wages were 76.5% of men's wages," or "in 2004, women earned 23.5% less than men earned."

Trends in the Gender Earnings Gap

Women's pay (relative to men's) rose rapidly from 1980 to 1990 (from 60.2% to 71.6%), and has risen less rapidly from 1990 to 2004 (from 71.6% to 76.5%).

It's important to understand; however, that the gender earnings gap is a relative figure. A shrinking pay gap does not necessarily indicate a real improvement in women's income. Arguably, most of the reason the wage gap is smaller now than it was in 1979 is because men, on average, are being paid less. In 1973, an average women's hourly wage was 63% of the average man's hourly wage; by 1997, an average women earned 79% of what an average man earned in an hour (a rise of 16%). But if men's wages hadn't dropped since 1973, an average woman in 1997 would have earned 67% of what an average man earned in an hour - a rise of only 4% since 1973. (Mishel et al, 1998).

Geography and age can also make a difference. In some large urban centres in the United States, young women's earnings outpace young men's, with young women earning up to 20% more than their male counterparts .

Causes of the gender gap

An April 15, 2005 article titled "Gender Wage Gap Is Feminist Fiction" from the Independent Women's Forum states, "A study of the gender wage gap conducted by economist June O' Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that women earn 98 percent of what men do when controlled for experience, education, and number of years on the job. The study does not take into account factors that obviously affect women more than men, such as pregnancy and child-birth, and how women tend to be financially "punished" for them, while men are not .

Occupational choice

Occupational segregation refers to the way that some jobs (such as truck driver) are dominated by men, and other jobs (such as child care worker) are dominated by women. Because jobs dominated by women are, on average, lower-paying than jobs dominated by men, occupational choice is an important cause of the gender gap.

Maternity leave

The economic risk and resulting costs of a woman possibly leaving work for a period of time or indefinitely to nurse a baby is cited by many to be a reason why women are less common in the higher paying occupations such as CEO positions and upper management. It is much easier for a man to be hired in these higher prestige jobs than to risk losing a female job holder.

"Women's jobs" and "Men's jobs"?

The reason for the difference in pay between "women's jobs" and "men's jobs" is disputed. Many conservatives would argue that the difference in pay reflects a tendency of women to freely choose low-wage jobs because women prefer less dangerous or more flexible work. Many liberals would argue that both discrimination by employers (Neumark 1996), and sexist social expectations, tend to steer women into lower-paying occupations and men into higher-paying occupations.

Some economists, particularly conservative economists, have argued that the tendency of women to congregate in "women's jobs" has led to "occupational crowding," in which the high supply of applicants for "women's jobs" drives wages for those jobs downwards. Sociologist Reeve Vanneman and his colleagues calculated that if 1990 patterns held, if every labor market in the U.S. had men and women equally distributed across occupations, there would be no gender gap in earnings.

Different choices

Women and men often make different choices: in college major, in hours and years worked, and in what jobs to take.

Critics of the discrimination theory, including men's rights activists, argue that these "free choice" elements are the source of virtually all of the gender earnings gap. According to these critics, women often choose to prioritize social and family life before their careers, and will therefore avoid jobs that require long or inflexible hours.

Proponents of the discrimination theory, including feminists, argue that such "free choice" factors, while significant, have been shown in studies to leave large portions of the gender earnings gap unexplained (Blau and Kahn 1997, Wood et al 1993). Furthermore, some feminists argue that the social expectation that women are the sex responsible for child and elder care is not an example of "free choice," but instead an example of sexism.

Warren Farrell has reported that childless women who have never married earn 117 percent of their childless male counterparts, when the comparison controls for education, hours worked and age. However, Farrell's calculations and methodology have never been subjected to peer review; some economists writing in peer-reviewed academic journals have found that, even after accounting for parenthood status, education, job title, and other factors, there is still a significant income disparity in men's favor (Blau and Kahn 1997, Wood et al 1993).

Men get more credit for their work

Some argue that work by men is often subjectively seen as higher-quality than objectively equal or better work by women (Goldin and Rouse, 1997; Johnson, 1997). This can impact who is offered mentoring, who is given a job assignment, who is offered a promotion, and so on - and all of these factors in turn have an effect on the gender earnings gap.

For example, one study of credit in the sciences, published in Nature, looked at productivity (measured in terms of publications in scientific journals, how many times a person was a "lead author" of an article, and how often the articles were cited in scientific journals) and sex. These factors were then compared to how an actual scientific review panel measured scientific competence when deciding on research grants. The results showed that female scientists needed to be at least twice as accomplished as their male counterparts to receive equal credit (Wenneras and Wold, 1997).

Conservatives argue that these studies are failing to measure for all important factors, and that women in fact receive equal credit when they are equally productive. Furthermore, according to conservative arguments, women may be given an unfair advantage in having their work judged due to affirmative action policies. In the conservative view, the pay gap is due to women's low productivity; because women are so comparatively unproductive, they would earn even lower wages relative to men, were it not for affirmative action.

Is there a "danger" pay premium?

Men's rights activist Warren Farrell has argued that a significant cause of the gender earnings gap is men's greater willingness to take on physically dangerous jobs (New York Times 2008). Men's activists assert that men are taking more dangerous jobs, as suggested by the statistic that 90% of on-the-job fatalities in the U.S. are male. This Men's Rights argument contends that because employers have to pay a "danger premium" to entice workers to take dangerous jobs, and because women are not willing or able to take these jobs even for high wages, men's wages are higher.

However, feminists argue that the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. are not necessarily "male", but most often very low-paid jobs, generally performed by immigrants and other workers who have few occupational options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor confirms the lack of correspondence between dangerous work and high wages. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics investigated job traits that are associated with wage premiums, they found that "Job attributes relating to ... physically demanding or dangerous jobs... do not seem to affect wages" (Monthly Labor Review, 1999).

How much lower is the pay in "Women's jobs"?

Different economists have calculated it different ways. The sociologist Paula England looked at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (a U.S. government study that measures changes in people's lives over time), and found that if a white woman in an all-male workplace moved to an all-female workplace, she would lose 7% of her wages. If a black woman did the same thing, she would lose 19% of her wages (England et al, 1996). The economists Deborah Figart and June Lapidus (1996) calculated that if female-dominated jobs did not pay lower wages, women's median hourly pay nationwide would go up 13.2% (men's pay would go up 1.1%, due to raises for men working in "women's jobs").

See also


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