Gender Wage Gap: Bad For Men, Too

Forty years after Congress prohibited discrimination based on gender (as part of the Civil Rights Act in 1964), working women continue to earn less than men.

Financial advisor Ray Martin visits The Early Show to outline some of the factors behind this disparity. He also offers advice to women who are facing this problem.

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, women earned 76 cents on the dollar vs. their male counterparts in 2003. Numbers for 2004 still aren't available.

Though it's to believe that this is still a reality, take a look at the median income for both sexes:

Men's median earnings: $40,668
Women's median earnings: $30,724

If your brain is trained to think critically about data, you might immediately respond: "These numbers are not balanced; what about women who take time off to have families?"

Even when studies factor in variables such as children, they still find that women earn at least 20 cents less than men.

While this is clearly bad news for women, Martin says it's also bad news for men.

A clear majority of working women "are contributing 50 percent or more of their household's income, according to a recent AFL-CIO survey," Martin says. "And, if you are in a household where the female spouse is an income earner AND have a daughter who is destined to follow in her path, the impact of this gender gap can harbor present and future financial consequences."

Obviously, laws that strictly prohibit any type of discrimination in the workplace have been in place for years. So why does the wage disparity persist?

First of all, it's true that women do tend to take time off to have kids. Leaving a job can result in not only a loss in salary, but often puts women at the end of the line for promotions, and thus the chance to earn more, as well.

Second, men are more likely to get jobs in fields that pay more, such as math and sciences.

Along these lines, men are more likely to choose dangerous or unappealing jobs such as truck driver, cowboy, working on an oil rig, etc. Because nobody is really anxious to do many of these jobs, business owners have to pay more to those who do accept the positions. An interesting note to back up this fact: Men are the victims in 92 percent of occupational deaths, according to the Census Bureau.

In contrast, women are more likely to choose jobs that offer more flexibility or dependability. Often, this is so they can be the main caretaker in their family. Other times, it's simply because the jobs they find more fulfilling are less lucrative. Of course, there are all kinds of arguments about why women take these jobs -- societal pressures, etc -- but we're not debating those reasons; we're sticking with the facts.

All of this is quite frustrating. Women have been told for years that the wage gap would narrow once more women began getting more education and more experience in a greater variety of fields. Clearly, while the situation may have improved some, it's still not equal.

Take a look at a couple of examples from the annual NAFE (National Association for Female Executives) salary survey. More education still does not spell similar salaries; some of the highest paid, most highly-educated women in the NAFE survey face a larger-than-average wage gap.

Female Neurosurgeons = $337,031 (median annual salary)
Male Neurosurgeons = $487,000

Female Civil Engineers = $61,000
Male Civil Engineers = $78,000

So what should women do to address this wage gap? Martin has five suggestions:

  1. Seek Career Counseling: Fifty percent of white, black and Hispanic women major in fields that lead to the country's lowest paying jobs. These "lowest paying majors" include education, humanities, professional degrees, fine arts and agriculture. In contrast, a majority of white men choose to major in engineering, mathematical sciences, business, physical sciences and social sciences -- the five majors leading to the highest income, according to NAFE. Women should understand the financial consequences of their educational choices.
  2. Work at the "Best" Companies: Look for employment with a company that has been highlighted as "female friendly." A good place to start is with the Working Mothers 100 Best Companies list. These companies tend to offer generous paid parental-leave programs, etc., and have made long-term commitments to increase female representation in senior management and on their boards of directors.
  3. Negotiate Salary Offers: This sounds logical, but studies indicate that men are eight times more likely than women to negotiate an initial salary offer. If your initial salary is smaller than your co-workers', it will be difficult to ever catch up. Most raises are typically given as a percentage of your current salary. You then fall further and further behind on the pay scale.
  4. Join Support Organizations: Consider joining employer and industry groups that foster advancement and success for women. Such organizations include groups like the American Medical Women's Association, the Association for Women in Computing, and more.
  5. Save Early, Often, More: Thanks to families, career choice and other factors, many women will earn less than men in their lifetimes. As a result, women also accumulate lower retirement benefits from pensions, retirement savings plans, and even from Social Security. Women need to be aware of this fact and offset it by saving earlier in their careers and saving more.