Men still outearn women, report finds

wage gap between men and women
courtesy flickr user Cam Vilay

courtesy flickr user Cam Vilay
A new report from the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) should clear some of the mystery around the persistent wage gap between men and women. The report is a follow-up to previous work by the GAO, which found that in 2007, women managers earned 81 cents for every dollar men earned. That was a slight improvement from 2000, when women managers earned 79 cents for every dollar men pulled in.

This most recent report looks at the pay of women with less education and lower wages. It's able to control for some important factors, such as the industries in which men and women work and the number of hours they spend on the job. It finds that even though women have outperformed men educationally in the past few decades, the least-educated women still earn substantially less than the least-educated men. In 2000, the researchers estimated that less-educated women earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. By 2010, the pay gap had decreased by five cents, and these women were earning 86% of what similarly-educated men make.

Less-educated women are also more likely than their male peers to work part- time. That doesn't affect the pay gap--the researchers could control for this factor--but it certainly hurts their income. On overage, 29% of less-educated women worked part-time in 2010, compared to just 15% of men.

Choosing the 'wrong' industries

About 25% of the wage gap appears to be due to factors that the researchers could identify. Chief among them the industries in which women primarily work. In 2010, the largest group of less-educated women worked in health care and social assistance, where the average wage is just $14 an hour. Men were more likely to work in construction or utilities, where wages were closer to $19 an hour.

Significantly, even when these women worked in the same industry as men, they are generally paid less. Women's wages are less than men's in 12 of the 14 industries analyzed by the study and in all 15 of the professions.

Ironically, the lowest-earning one-fifth of women in the country are better educated, and slightly older, than the corresponding quintile of men. Within this group, 81% of women have a high school diploma, compared to 75% of men, and the women have an average age of 45, compared to 42 for the men.

One other point: The report notes that for a family of four, the federal poverty level is $22,313, or about $10.73 an hour for someone who works full-time. I realize, of course, that not everyone lives in a family of four, and that the amount of money actually needed to get by varies greatly depending on which part of the country you live in. But why isn't the minimum wage--at $7.25 an hour--somehow linked to the federal poverty level? Anyone?

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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.