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Has the Pay Gap Between Women and Men Narrowed?

July 7th, 2021
Pay Gap

Since entering the workforce, women have notoriously made less than men, both in their ethnic peer groups and across the board. The good news is that this gap has shrunk over the years. However, not much has changed since the early 2000s.

As of 2018, the Census Bureau data showed that women have made 81.6 cents on the dollar compared to men. That is a slight increase from the year prior. Median salaries are over $10,000 higher for men than for women.

What Factors Created the Pay Gap?

It can be difficult to get an accurate comparison between men and women in the workforce. Men and women can tend to segregate themselves into jobs dominated by the same gender. Men are more represented in industrial jobs, construction trades, technology-focused roles, and finance fields. Women work more in service-based positions, like hospitality, customer service, education, and nursing.

Men also control a high percentage of top corporate executive roles or partner-level positions, including CEO seats, which come with enormous compensation packages. A lack of representation at the top tends to dissuade women from continuing career paths at companies, which can further pay gaps and prevent other women from attaining higher offices and positions.

Another major factor in the pay disparity is the effect of motherhood on a woman’s earnings. While women are waiting later to have children compared to previous generations, a major effect on earning potential remains. Not only do mothers lose time during maternal leave, many also take less time-consuming positions to focus more on family. With that decrease often comes less wages, often far below capabilities. This societal pressure does not fall on men, who are mostly allowed and encouraged to continue working in their profession, often taking more hours, pursuing promotions, or even getting a second or third job to provide more for the family.

Which Occupations Tend to Have Pay Disparities?

Even when men and women work in the same field, a substantial number of roles and fields pay men more. According to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these include:

  • Delivery and truck drivers
  • Police and sheriffs, correctional officers, and bailiffs
  • Insurance agents
  • Real estate agents
  • Human Resources (HR) managers
  • College educators
  • Educational administrators
  • Front-line supervisors and administrators for customer service positions
  • Wait staff and bartenders
  • Maids and cleaning staffs
  • Pharmacists
  • Line cooks, bakers, head cooks, and chefs
  • Elementary and secondary educators

Why is the Pay Gap Narrowing?

There are incremental changes in some industries that have contributed to lowering the pay gap. A key catalyst has been the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law in 2009. However, there has not been a significant rise in complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) following the passage.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the difference between men and women working in the federal government has dropped significantly. The federal government is the nation’s single largest employer. The pay gap between men and women has dropped from 19 cents on the dollar in 1999 to 7 cents in 2017. Most of that difference came from a focus on explained differences.

Concentrated efforts to diminish the pay gaps, notably in the 2010s, has reduced that portion of the gap from 11 cents to just 1 cent in the studied timeframe. Not only have both groups become more similar in measurable factors in their roles, but women have also out-earned men in pay raises over that period, perhaps due to the strategies implemented by the government’s oversight authorities. This makes the substantial majority of the gap linked to unexplained circumstances, like prior experience before entering the federal workforce. The gap, which has shrunk from 8 cents per hour in 1999 to 6 cents in 2017, may be a result of discrimination as well.

Outside of the federal government, more states and local governments have passed equal pay laws and other regulations aimed at reducing the pay gap. A total of 24 states have some variation of equal pay statutes. California has started to mandate publicly traded companies and other firms with boards of directors to designate one or more seats for women. Other states have found success with laws targeting different industries and more locally specific solutions.

Many states and municipal legislatures have passed laws promoting salary transparency or other measures to promote equity in pay. Shareholders of major companies have pressured for more disclosure of salaries across the board, notably at the executive level. This has forced some to reexamine pay scales and resolve pay disparities.

There has also been a commitment to give job applicants some protection by banning questions on previous salaries or giving them the option to refuse to answer those questions. These provisions targeted pay gaps and have helped women and minorities get better paying positions, while helping employers hire and retain more diverse workforces.

Male-Dominated Fields

Over the past few years, there has been an increase of women in traditionally male-dominated fields. While some sectors like entertainment or government may get more attention, other fields are seeing a surge of women employees. More graduating classes of postsecondary schools, both in undergraduate and professional degree programs, contain more women than men.

More women are studying engineering and sciences and entering those careers where they have been underrepresented for decades. Trade unions have made concerted to bring in more women, along with minorities, especially in urban areas. The education and experience shift has almost halved the explained pay gap.

How has the Pandemic Affected the Pay Gap?

One major factor that could further the pay gap reduction as businesses come out of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the shift away from quantity of hours. High-paying jobs, especially executives, often go to those putting in extra hours at lower or junior positions. Putting in extra-long work weeks early in careers can be rewarded as one climbs the corporate ladder. Without the ability to work beyond the typical workday due to offices closed for public health concerns, working from home has created a more level playing field.

Should more employers continue work-from-home policies, that could significantly benefit women, especially working mothers. With schools reopening and keeping students for full-day learning for five-day weeks, that will allow millions to return to the workforce and bring more balance to a lopsided recovery, which has seen many women unable to return immediately.

More flexibility in work schedules will allow those raising children or taking care of aging parents more opportunities to work around obligations and set a sustainable work schedule. This should mean more hours worked, more wages earned, and more opportunities for promotions and raises. If private sectors can follow the federal government’s example of targeted programs to reduce explainable factors in the pay gap, that could start another closure effort.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Advocate for Fair and Equal Pay

Navigating complex employment matters can be overwhelming. Having a trusted partner on your side can make a major difference. If you are experiencing unfair pay at work, one of our Philadelphia employment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. can give you legal guidance. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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