By Allison Steven
Sunday, January 27, 2002
A congressional study indicates that it is tougher than ever for women to land the top jobs and the wage gap may be widening further. Both sides of the aisle in Congress call for more research.
WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--The wage gap between men and women in American industry is widening, according to a new congressional report on a study that compares management salaries in 1995 to salaries in 2000. The findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which holds that women have been slowly but steadily gaining ground in their efforts to receive equal pay for equal work.
The report, released Thursday, comes on the heels of several independent studies from last year that showed similar results: that progress among women in the workforce is stalling--if not slipping--in broadcasting, law, politics and the sciences.
"It is compelling evidence that the glass ceiling remains a powerful obstacle to women in the workforce, and it suggests things may be getting worse, not better," said Congressman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who commissioned the report last year along with Carolyn Maloney, a Democratic member of Congress from New York.
Critics, however, say the findings are dubious and see no reason to investigate what one called "a very thin study that would not pass muster among academics."
In both 1995 and 2000, women managers earned less than their male counterparts in the 10 industries that employ the vast majority of women, the General Accounting Office study concluded. In seven of the industries studied, the wage gap between men and women in management positions actually widened over the five-year period.
The sharpest decline came in private-sector industries, where men hold a higher proportion of management positions. In the entertainment and recreation-services industry, for example, a full-time female manager in 1995 earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart. Five years later, a full-time female manager in the same industry earned 62 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart.
Six other industries also showed slippage in women's managerial salaries. The smallest rate of decline occurred in the field of professional medical services. In this field, women in management positions earned 90 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earned in 1995 but earned only 88 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earned in 2000.
Women's managerial salaries dropped in other industries, including communications; finances; retail trade; insurance and real estate; business and repair services.
The wage gap narrowed in three industries--public administration, hospitals and medical services and educational services--all of which, the survey noted, are industries that are heavily regulated or are in the public sector, where women come close to and in some cases outnumber men in positions of management.
Women gained the most ground in the field of educational services. In 1995, women educational managers earned 86 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earned; in 2000, women earned 91 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earned.
In addition, the study showed that women hold a share of management jobs proportionate to their share of the industry work force in only 5 of the 10 industries studied. In four others, men hold a greater proportion of management positions compared to the overall workforce. In the field of hospitals and medical services, for example, men hold 20 percent of all positions but 34 percent of managerial positions.
Women hold a larger proportion of management positions in only one industry, professional medical services, a field where managers have a relatively lower status than professionals in the field. In this industry, women hold about 80 percent of all positions and 90 percent of all managerial positions.
Incremental advances among a small cadre of women, such as newly appointed New York Times Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins, newly elected House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi and several new women chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies suggest that women are indeed breaking through the invisible barrier to the executive suites. The faith in such progress is buttressed by an increased presence of women of all ages in the workforce and a narrowing of the overall wage gap over the past two decades.
Nonetheless, the study raises questions about whether progress is reaching all women and whether the accomplishments of the last several decades are giving way to retrogressive trends, Maloney said.
"It doesn't make any sense," Maloney said. "I thought life would be easier for our daughters. This report is showing that life may be harder for them."
Nonetheless, Dingell said he is determined to find an explanation. He pledged to ask his Republican colleagues to hold hearings on the report to investigate the findings further. Dingell also promised to commission a more detailed study when the 2000 Census data become available later this year.
Christine Stolba, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank, says she believes the data are skewed because the study failed to account for differences in professional experience, often a significant factor in determining wages. Stolba, from the Independent Women's Forum, questioned the survey's data and implications.
"The most important thing to note is that this is not an academic analysis of the wage gap," she said.
Ed Hudgins, director of regulatory studies at the conservative Cato Institute, added that the survey also failed to take non-tax benefits, such as vacation time and retirement savings plans, into account. And he added that the survey relied on self-reporting, a methodology technique that leads to a relatively high number of errors.
Martha Farnsworth Riche, an economist and former director of the Census Bureau who vetted the study for the accounting office, acknowledged that the data used by the study do not take years of experience into account, which employers often use to determine salary levels. She called for further analysis of more detailed data from the 2000 Census to assess how education and years of experience affect salary differentials.
Farnsworth Riche added, however, that the broad definition used to define management positions might have skewed the results in the opposite direction.
"By looking at the industries that employed nearly three out of four women managers, and by having a broad definition of management, we definitely did not come up with as dramatic results as we could have," she said.
Critics also called the results predictable. Women, Hudgins said, interrupt their professional careers in far greater numbers than men to raise children, a choice that limits their career goals and lowers their salaries. Hudgins also said that women choose to accept lower-paying jobs and enter less lucrative industries more often than men because such jobs and industries offer non-monetary benefits such as fewer hours on the job and greater flexibility.
A senior aide to Maloney disagreed, noting that women often enter the workforce not because they want to but because they have to. "Women shouldn't have such a difficult choice," the aide said. "It doesn't seem that men are having to make the same choice."
More women, she said, are forced to make sacrifices in either their family or professional lives. Women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are more likely to take part-time work to spend more time with their families, a situation that often inhibits their professional advancement and reduces benefits such as health insurance, childcare and Social Security benefits.
Women who do land management positions are less likely than their male counterparts to have children in the home. The the report on the study showed that across all industries, nearly 60 percent of male managers have children in the home compared to only 40 percent of women managers.
"Women," Maloney said, continue to be "the largest class of second-class citizens in the country."
Allison Stevens covers politics in Washington.
GAO Report: "Women in Management":
(Adobe/Acrobat PDF format)
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)
"A New Look Through the Glass Ceiling: Where are the Women?":
(Adobe/Acrobat PDF format)
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
August 2001, Report 952
"Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2000:"
(Adobe/Acrobat PDF format)