Women working longer for less

Rachel Abbey

Despite earning 20 percent less than men, pay gap is slowly changing

Credit: Rachel Abbey

Women earned an average of 80 percent of what men earned in 2003, according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. For a traditional 40-hour work week, if a man makes $10 an hour, that can mean a difference of almost $4,000 per year.

The bureau shows this pay gap varies according to age and skill level. Women ages 16 to 24 earn 93 percent as much as men, but this gap in earnings increases with age. Women ages 35 to 44, for example, earn about 76 percent of men’s wages.

This gap can also vary according to amount of skill and education, said Stephane Booth, associate provost for Academic Quality Improvement and associate professor of history. Booth’s specialty is women in the workforce.

The bureau compiles information based on its Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of households across the country. On average, a large pay gap exists between men and women’s full-time wages and salaries, according to the most recent statistics. For example, the general field of “legal occupations” — which includes lawyers and judges — averaged a median weekly salary of $1,561 for men, but only $845 a week for women. This occurred even though there were reportedly more women in the field: 603,000 women, compared to 508,000 men.

The United States Department of Labor released a list of the 20 leading occupations of full-time employed women for 2003. Of those, one occupation reported a difference of more than $500 a week between men and women’s wages: financial manager. In the Current Population Survey, male financial managers were receiving an average of $1,397 per week while females were receiving only $839.

Contrarily, some of the more popular jobs for women held small gaps in pay between the sexes. For example, the survey reported women bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks made $20 less than men per week, and women made up 91 percent of the field.

For receptionists and information clerks, women actually earned an average of $9 more than men per week. Here, women made up 94 percent of the field.

The shift is slow but steady, Booth said. Laws have been in place to prohibit gender discrimination in the workplace, but subtle forms of discrimination still occur.

It’s easy for employers to excuse putting women in lower positions by rationalizing that women want to have children and raise a family, so they would be unsuited for a work-intensive job.

There is a lack of women in leadership roles, such as in higher education and CEO positions, especially in comparison to the ratio of men and women in the total population, Booth said.

According to the bureau report, women were more likely to be employed in lower paying professions in both managerial and professional occupational groups.

For example, in professional occupations, women were more likely to be employed in education and training, while men were more likely to be in engineering and computing fields.

It’s “still the man’s workplace,” said Amanda Jenkins, freshman criminal justice major.

Cultural shifts take a long time, Booth said. While gender discrimination is illegal, discouraging stereotypes may remain.

Male dominance in the workplace is a traditional aspect of American culture, she said.

When Booth began teaching in the history department, she was one of the first female faculty members —- in the 1980s.

“It’s not as rapid as you would like to see it,” Booth said of equality in the workplace. “But it’s progressing.”

While progress may seem slow, women won the right to vote in the ’20s — almost 150 years after men — and the Equal Pay Act has only been active for 40 years, Booth said.

“It’s very difficult to change people’s ideas, their feelings,” Booth said.

Society has the tendency to latch on to characteristics agreeing with its existing stereotypes, she said. American culture is a hierarchical one, and some groups need to feel more powerful than others.

“Cooperation is not the way we generally work, even though we give a lot of lip service to it,” Booth said. “It’s still very competitive.”

Men have the tendency to think, “We can do everything by ourselves,” said Tramaine Jackson, sophomore computer technology major. Society expects men to take care of women, and that’s a cause of lower wages and smaller work loads for women, he said.

The equality issue still strikes a chord among college students, as Jackson and freshman accounting major Ciera Johnson began a discussion on the fairness of his points.

Men get paid more because they usually have higher positions in careers, Johnson said.

Men also have the traditional role of supporting their families, Jackson said.

What about single moms, Johnson asked. How do they provide for their families with such unequal wages?

It’s not fair, Jackson said, but it is a current fact of life.

Woman may have broken through the “first glass ceiling” by moving into management positions and non-traditional fields, Booth said, but strides still have to be made. A lot of pressure is currently put on women to balance both family and career, and the pressure is put on by society.

However, while it may be assumed women will take care of children, Booth said, day care facilities aren’t always offered at workplaces.

The best way to create positive changes in this area is to be informed, Booth said. Women should know the going salaries in their given fields, and if the salaries they are offered is not in that range, they should not be afraid to ask why.

Many times, the hiring process is where women lose by accepting an initial job offer in a position that is too low skills-wise or not paid well, she said.

Freshman nursing major Ashley Johnson is familiar with the challenges women still face in the workplace.

“That’s one reason I’m doing what I’m doing,” she said.

Ashley Johnson is studying to become a certified registered nurse and anesthetist, similar to an anesthesiologist, which is a male-dominated specialty in the nursing field. Men tend to succeed because people assume men know what they are doing better than women do, Johnson said.

She wants to prove she can do it, too.

Contact academics reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].