Pay disparity by gender highlighted, disputed

As Equal Pay Day came and went on Tuesday, April 12, several stories exploring the persisting wage gap between men and women took center stage in the weekly news cycle. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, the organization in charge of the awareness day, Tuesday was chosen to represent how far into the work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week.

According to the National Bureau for Labor and Statistics, across all occupations combined, women earned 81.2 percent of what men did in 2010. Many news outlets focused on this disparity in specific fields and occupations, where the gap greatly differs, or is in some cases reversed.

The Atlantic chose to focus on the traditionally reported story of fields in which women earn less than men, highlighting finance and insurance as the top disparity, where women in the same positions earn just 62 percent in comparison to their male colleagues. Gaps also persisted in health care, utilities, public administration, and both wholesale and resale trade industries.

Several publications focused on more localized data: The Sun-Sentinel reported that in Florida, women were found to earn $7,013 less than men annually. An even larger gap reported by the Boston Globe showed Massachussets women working under a $11,800 pay gap.  The National Partnership for Women and Families, the advocacy group providing the research for both these reports, maintains a state-by-state guide to several data points on this topic.

The long-standing critique of the wage gap is the Mommy Card: women leave the workforce to raise children before reaching higher-level management positions that bring with them the higher salaries. The Christian Science Monitor also noted that in 2009, Women held 36.5 percent of all managerial positions, up from 34 percent in 2000. In addition, only three percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2009 were women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. The Washington Post offered a counter to this argument, pointing to a study from Columbia University that showed women take a 4 percent wage hit with their first child, while men gain 9 percent in their salaries. The wage gap also persists in the same positions at the same level of management, and men still earn more even in traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing.

The recent rise in unemployment is also used as an excuse for these disparities, since men have been hit harder by the recession in fields such as construction. Newsweek even went as far as to ask if “manhood” could survive the recession, referring to the group who used to drive BMW’s as “beached white males.” And while the overall unemployment rate is 1 percent higher for men than women over the age of 16, single women were still hit the hardest by the rise in unemployment. In March 2011 the male unemployment rate was 9.3 percent whereas single women who maintain families had an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent, compared to 8.3 percent for women as a whole.

Some opinions still hold, however, that the wage gap is mostly about manipulation of data and doesn’t offer a true comparison worth exploring. A columnist for the Wall Street Journal said Tuesday should be seen as a day  “dedicated to manufactured feminist grievances,” rather than as a true “battle of the sexes.”

Other opinions supported the data. The Houston Chronicle and Detroit Free Press both urged readers to become more active in the fight for pay equity.

At the policy level, the pending class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination could be the largest case of its kind in U.S. history. The New York Times editorial page noted that ” If the court rejects this suit, it will send a chilling message that some companies are too big to be held accountable.”

Additional resources and data:

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.


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