Wage Gap for U.S. Women Endures Even as Jobs Increase

The number of U.S. women employed full-time grew after the worst recession in seven decades even as the male workforce shrank. The number of dollars in their paychecks relative to men’s hardly rose at all.

Women earned about 79 cents for every $1 made by men, according to the 2009-11 American Community Survey, a poll of 9 million households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up from 78 cents in the 2007-09 survey. The data, released today, showed 680,300 more women and 1.9 million fewer men were working than during the previous three-year period.

The report underscores the persistent gender pay gap, independent of occupation, experience and education, an issue highlighted in the race for the White House. President Barack Obama has touted his support for pay-equity laws, and Republican Mitt Romney has tried to cut into Obama’s lead among female voters by blaming his policies for rising poverty among women.

“Assumptions about women’s roles and men’s roles are stubborn and pernicious,” Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the Washington-based American Association of University Women, said in a telephone interview. “There is still absolutely a sense that women are the caretakers and so they are less-valuable employees.”

At the current rate of change, the average year-round, full-time female employee would reach pay parity with the typical male worker in about 2063.

Fair Pay

The latest numbers only partially reflect the impact of the first piece of legislation Obama signed upon taking office in January 2009. Before passage of the law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, workers alleging pay discrimination had to file complaints within 180 days of the employers’ initial decision to pay them less.

The new law lets workers file a complaint within 180 days of receiving each paycheck that they consider discriminatory. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported on the one-year anniversary of the legislation that it had received 4,800 wage-discrimination complaints, with about 1,900 alleging sex discrimination.

Women made more than men in only one of 247 major, full- time occupations tracked by the Census Bureau in the last two American Community Surveys: Females who were transportation, storage and distribution managers reported 2009-11 median earnings of $52,435, about $1.02 for every $1 earned by a man doing the same job.

On the other end of the scale, women working as financial specialists earned 55 cents for every dollar earned by a man, followed by securities and commodities sales agents, who earned 60 percent of the wages reported by their male counterparts.

Knocking on Doors

Some women narrowed the pay gap with men by knocking on doors -- literally. Among the nation’s 58,200 door-to-door sales workers, women closed the gap from 74 cents per male dollar in 2007-09 to 83 cents in 2009-11, earning a median of $23,164. Men working as door-to-door salesmen fared poorly; their median annual incomes fell $2,218 to $27,977.

The difference also shrank among sewing machine operators and social service specialists, with women gaining 8 cents on every $1 of male pay. Across the 247 occupations with more than 10,000 male and female employees, women made progress in 129 jobs.

Still, almost all of the 680,300 jobs gained by women during the three-year period were reported in traditionally female-oriented occupations, especially public-sector jobs that were subsidized by an economic-stimulus package enacted in February 2009, now valued at $831 billion.

Teachers, Nurses

The number of female elementary and middle school teachers grew 246,000 to 1.7 million, accounting for more than one-third of the increase. Those positions also were the largest refuge for men. There were 479,000 male teachers in 2009-2011, an increase of 48,100 from 2007-09.

The greatest salary gains reported by women occurred in professional categories. Women physicians’ assistants saw their median pay increase by $9,922 to $68,160, or 73 cents of the median paid to a male physician’s assistant. Female engineering managers reported a $9,579 median boost in salary to $113,825, or 98 cents of male earnings for the same job.

Male physicians and surgeons reported the greatest income boost, with median pay rising $15,518 to $202,571. The increase widened the gap slightly with females, who now earn 62 cents for every $1 made by a male physician, down from 64 cents during the 2007-09 survey. Male financial specialists registered a $9,242 median raise to $82,918.

‘Occupational Segregation’

The gender wage gap is reinforced by “occupational segregation” that forces women into traditional roles in the labor force such as teaching, nursing or secretarial work, said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Hegewisch also said the new census figures may not reflect the more-recent difficulties of women in making up lost ground. An institute analysis found that the majority of new jobs since the end of 2011 have gone to men, though women and men gained an equal number in September, the last month data was available.

Men lost jobs in traditionally male-oriented occupations. The number of truck drivers fell 171,800 over the three-year period to 2.1 million. The ranks of construction managers declined 168,500 to 516,300, and the number of laborers dropped by 155,600 to 817,600.

The collapse of the nation’s real estate market was hard on both genders. Male real estate brokers and dealers had their median pay drop $2,920 to $51,106, the steepest decline of any occupation for men. Women in the same job lost a median $3,037 to fall to $38,006, the second-sharpest drop for females. The wage gap widened slightly for women in the industry from 74 cents in 2007-09 to 76 cents for every male dollar in 2009-11.

Closing the Gap

For women, a rapid decrease in the wage gap “isn’t going to happen on its own,” said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington. “We need to make some improvements to the law to put the right incentives in place.”

Legislation that would require employers to prove that pay differences between men and women doing the same job aren’t related to gender failed in the Senate in 2010 and 2012.

“We’ve taken care of the easier stuff,” said Linda Barrington, an economist and managing director at Cornell University’s Institute for Compensation Studies. “There’s not going to be another birth-control revolution. What really needs to be changed now are all those really tough societal questions.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Frank Bass in Washington at fbass1@bloomberg.net; Jennifer Oldham in Denver at joldham1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark McQuillan at mmcquillan@bloomberg.net; Flynn McRoberts at fmcroberts1@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.