Equal Pay/Fair Wage

'Mancession' Focus Masks Women's Real Losses

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A persistent myth about men suffering worse job-loss woes in this recession cries out for a few additional facts, along with Carrie Lukas' whopper in the Wall Street Journal about the end of the gender wage gap.

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The Price of 'Mommy Tax'

Caryl Rivers  Rosalind C. Barnett"The reduced earnings of mothers are, in effect, a heavy personal tax levied on people who care for children, or for any other dependent family members," reports Ann Crittenden in her 2001 book, "The Price of Motherhood." Crittenden calls it a "mommy tax" that easily penalizes a college-educated woman $1 million.

Lukas argues that we women deserve our lower pay because we choose less-demanding, less-competitive jobs.

But data on a growing gender gap in earnings among equally qualified male and female doctors challenges that idea.

Among new doctors in the United States, women earn nearly $17,000 less each year than male counterparts, even though women increasingly are choosing careers in higher-paying specialties, according to a study based on survey data from more than 8,000 doctors, reported a 2011 article in Health Affairs.

Meanwhile, the gender gap in starting salaries has been widening, rising from a difference of $3,600 in 1999 to $16,819 in 2008. While historically women have tended to choose relatively lower-paying primary care fields such as family medicine or pediatrics, this is no longer the case. The percentage of women entering those fields dropped from about 50 percent in 1999 to just over 30 percent in 2008, roughly on par with male doctors.

And, the gap exists after accounting for choice of specialty, practice type and working hours.

"What is surprising is that even when we account for specialty and hours and other factors, we see this growing unexplained gap in starting salary. The same gap exists for women in primary care as it does in specialty fields," said Anthony T. Lo Sasso, senior research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

What accounts for the persisting gender gap? It's not possible to say, definitely. But it's certainly too soon to declare the gender gap a thing of the past. Sorry to say.

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Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Rosalind C. Barnett is senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis. They are authors of the forthcoming book "The Truth about Girls and Boys: Confronting Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children" (Columbia University Press.)

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