New Report: Women Gain in Workplace, Still Lag in Pay

Last Updated Mar 2, 2011 8:58 AM EST

A new report released by the White House about the status of women details the substantial gains women have made in education and in the labor markets. But it leaves one obvious question unanswered: Why are women still being paid only 75% of what men make?

Because women earn less, and because they're more likely to be the sole provider for children, more women live in poverty than men. Nearly 40% of women who head a household on their own and have children under the age of 18 are poor. This statistic has changed little in the last 30 years.

The gains in education chronicled by the report, called "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being," are impressive. (It's worth noting that the report does not contain any new data, but represents the first time it's all been easily available in one place.)
  • Women have higher graduation rates than men at all levels of education. In 2009, about 87% of women 19 or older had a high school degree, which is slightly better than young men did.
  • Younger women are more likely than younger men to have a college degree, and more likely to pursue a graduate degree.
  • By 2019, 60% of all college students are expected to be women
  • In 2009, more than half the people employed in managerial or professional positions were women
  • In 50 years, the labor force participation rate of women has nearly doubled, to 61% in 1997 from 32% in 1948.
  • Men's workforce participation rate has fallen from 89% in 1948 to 75% in 2009.
Yet women are paid about 75% of what men make, and getting a degree doesn't help close the wage gap. That 75% figure holds true across educational levels.

Department of Commerce Acting Deputy Secretary Becky Blank suggested that women's lower pay could be attributed to the fact that more men than women work in the comparatively high-paying fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, otherwise known as STEM. Women are also more likely to work in administrative jobs. Others have suggested that some of the wage gap stems from the fact that women are more likely to work part-time or to take time off to raise children or care for other family members.

Evidence of a Mancession
Occupational choices aren't all good news for men, though. The fact that so many men work in fields such as manufacturing, production, and construction, means that men have been hit harder in the past four economic downturns than women. Unemployment rose 7.7% for men and 4.4% for women.

Valerie Jarrett, who chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, said the report "serves as a guidepost to help us move forward." But given the terrible budget situation in Washington, the report isn't expected to spur any new programs or initiatives.

Even if the budget weren't an issue, what would help decrease economic inequity in the U.S.? Or is the current situation more equitable than the 75% figure makes it appear?

RELATED Photo credit flickr user John-Morgan
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and consultant. Follow her at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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