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Gender-wage gap decided by more than discrimination


May 10, 2000
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EDT (0320 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some feminists are designating Thursday as "Equal Pay Day," symbolizing the point in the year 2000 where women's workers' paychecks catch up to the wages men were paid in 1999.

But are women paid less than men? President Bill Clinton believes they are.

"Women still only earn about 75 cents for every dollar men earn," said Clinton in this year's State of the Union address.

That's true according to the latest Census Bureau figures, which show men's median earnings were nearly $37,000 in 1998, while women's earnings were less than $27,000.

That indicates women made 73 cents for every dollar a man earned. And it has equal-pay activists asking, "where's my 27 cents?"

But the truth is that 73 cents is real progress.

"In the early 1970s, it was reported to be 59 cents," said Anita Hattiangadi of the Employment Policy Foundation.

However, the 73-cent figure is misleading because it does not compare men and women of equal experience. Women workers have an average of four and a half fewer years on the job, which is a big factor in pay.

"We found that if you control for male-female differences in experience and education, women earn 81 percent of what men earn," said Francine Blau of Cornell University.

Job choice is another factor that determines the amount of pay. Engineers command high salaries, yet relatively few women study engineering. Teaching pays much less and that career field still attracts mostly women.

"If, in addition, you control for occupation and industry, which could be somewhat questionable because employers decide who gets hired into what jobs, the figure rises up to 88 percent," Blau said.

So for women with equal experience, working the same kinds of jobs, the 27 cent female-to-male wage gap shrinks to 12 cents. And some pro-business groups say there may be no gap at all.

"In fact, when you start accounting for these differences, you find the gender pay gap shrinks considerably. And, by some estimates, disappears," Hattiangadi said.

Few people believe the gender-pay gap is zero. And there is other evidence that women's pay is still held down by discrimination.

In high-priced restaurants, for example. One study sent women test subjects looking for waiter jobs. They received half as many job offers as men who were sent in with similar resumes.

Discrimination also pops up when orchestras are deciding which musician to pay. One study found women musicians were hired more often when auditioning 'blind' -- behind screens hiding their identity -- and were judged solely on their playing.

So bias does still exist and women still have to work more days than men to earn the same money. But if "Equal Pay Day" is based on men and women of equal experience and similar jobs, maybe that day should have been marked back in early February instead of in May.

Correspondent Brooks Jackson contributed to this report.

Income gap of richest and poorest widens for U.S. families
January 18, 2000
First lady courts businesswomen, concedes slip on clemency communication
September 10, 1999
Household income rise linked to working wives
September 1, 1998
Special day marks salary gap between men, women
April 3, 1998

Employment Policy Foundation
National Committee on Pay Equity: Equal Pay Day
U.S. Census Bureau: Historical Income Tables

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