(WOMENSENEWS)--"Twenty years ago conventional wisdom held that as more women entered the work force and as attitudes changed, the wage gap would gradually narrow," says U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York.
However, at the end of 2003, women, according to studies published recently, are even farther away from matching men's earning power.
A November congressional study indicates that women are paid an average of 79.7 cents for every dollar paid to men, versus 80.4 cents in 1983. Meanwhile a study released in early December by the National Association for Female Executives found a gap in the salaries of men and women with identical jobs and experience, even in professions dominated by women such as teaching, nursing and public relations.
Maloney, along with Representative John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, commissioned the study, "Women's Earnings: Work PatternsPartially Explain Difference between Men's and Women's Earnings," by the federal General Accounting Office. "At this point," Maloney says, "the question isn't 'Does the glass ceiling exist?' but instead, 'Is it a permanent fixture?'"
The federal study looks at 18 years of data on more than 9,300 U.S. citizens and factors in variances in occupation, race, marital status, job tenure and other circumstances that might account for wage differences, such as women leaving the work force to care for a child.
"Conservatives have argued that this is self-inflicted, that women make lifestyle choices that take them out of the work force, giving them fewer hours or easier jobs," Maloney says. "But this argument has proved to be as wrong as it is convenient. Lifestyle choices just don't explain away this phenomenon." Without factoring in these circumstances, women, according to the congressional study, would actually be making an average 44 cents on the dollar.
Huge Hit on Retirement Savings
The National Association for Female Executives' annual salary survey of 21 different professions indicated that men continue to earn an average $10,000 more than women. In the study by the New York-based professional association, women in accounting, advertising, law or public relations may be taking home $20,000 less each year than men with comparable experience. Even in sales, women make $30,000 less annually.
For the first time, the association looked at what would happen if a woman had that average $10,000 difference to invest over a 40-year career. Compounded at an interest rate of 10 percent, she could make over $4 million in 40 years.
"This is really a crisis for baby boomer women," says Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives. "Women live longer than men, so they need to retire on more than men. But they earn less during their careers than men, so they have less to save."
In addition, women are less likely to get a pension when they retire. While 47 percent of men over 65 receive a pension, only 30 percent of women do. Women over 65 have an average annual income of $14,200 compared to men's $39,000. And single women over 50 are the most likely to be poor compared to single older men and married older couples.
Women in Dark About Wage Disparity
Despite the long-term implications, many women are unaware of the disparity in wages. When Spence spoke recently to a group of female certified accountants, she says they were surprised to learn that they were making an average $25,000 less than their male counterparts. She believes women are too self-effacing when it comes to negotiating higher salaries. Too often, she says, they assume the first offer is the best offer or deep down they may feel that they are undeserving of more.
Maloney agrees that too few women see the wage gap as a problem. "The growing perception that there is no problem is a huge problem in itself," she says.
Maloney believes the problem persists because of discrimination. Although equal pay is mandated by law, that does not stop employers from hiring a man over a woman because they believe that she will take time out to care for her family.
Maloney's answer to the problem is to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She has a bill before Congress supporting the amendment, which women's rights advocates have been pushing since 1972 and which has been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states.
"If this society can't pass the equality amendment, they are not accepting men and women as equals," she says.
Maloney and Dingell are also working to establish a new center--which they would like to see located at a public university--that would study the wage gap and find policy solutions to improve the lives of women in the workplace.
Incentives Can Narrow the Gap
Spence, the president of the National Association for Female Executives, says some states can close the wage gap by as much as 30 percent by giving incentives to private employers. In Maine, for example, employers who examine their pay practices and then take steps toward making them more equitable, receive a so-called presumption of compliance that puts a heavier burden of proof on employees who file gender discrimination complaints.
Some companies are also rectifying the problem on their own. Spence says IBM does an annual examination of its salaries. If a disparity is found, a manager at the White Plains, N.Y., business equipment giant must provide a written explanation for it. If those reasons are considered inadequate, the employee must receive the difference in pay.
Spence adds that women must also lobby their companies to look at and rectify salary differences. And they should use the numbers from surveys like the association's to negotiate bigger paychecks.
Political leaders can also give women a pay boost, by doing such things as ranking companies according to their handling of gendering issues and hailing those that do a good job. Recently, for instance, New York City's Commission on Women's Issues conducted a survey of companies in the city to measure which were the best places for women to work.
The commission, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as advisors, singled out five companies, American Express, AOL Time Warner, Deloitte and Touche, JP Morgan Chase and New York University. They were said to offer not only paid maternity leave and career development for women, but also child care, leave for adoptions and health and wellness programs.
Luchina Fisher is a writer and producer in New York.
For more information:
Congresswoman Carolyn P. Maloney--
"Women's Earnings: Work Patterns Partially Explain Difference between Men's and Women's Earnings"
(Adobe PDF format):
The National Association for Female Executives: