Tuesday, May 22, 2007

All That Glitters, pt. 2 - As discussed previously, gender-based variances in pay are significantly informed by the relative risk of death or injury of a particular profession. As we might expect, employers would need to provide a significant incentive to secure employees who are willing to risk life and limb (as with the case of coal miners) or endure significant privations (as with truck drivers.) But to be sure, the risk-averse nature of females does not by itself explain all of the differences in pay seen between the sexes.

Other explanatory data comes to us by way of a report entitled Highlights of Women's Earnings in 2005 from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The report informs us that women who worked full-time "had median weekly earnings of $585, or 81 percent of the $722 for their male counterparts." And while this disparity seems to be problematic in and of itself, it represents a significant improvement from 1979, when women earned 63 percent of what men earned. As one combs through the data, several areas of significant improvement become evident. For instance, the report suggests that there is a wage premium for married couples with children.

Median weekly earnings of married women with children under the age of 18 were 24 percent higher than the earnings of unmarried mothers. The difference was even greater for men: married fathers earned 33 percent more than unmarried fathers did.
Indeed, the data confirmed that married women with children under the age of 18 had median usual weekly earnings of $611, versus median weekly earnings for non-married women of $531; married men with children under 18 earned $830 per week.

Interestingly, when the study looked at the median usual weekly earnings of women who worked full-time and were never married, these women earned 96.7 percent of what never-married men earned, with never-married women who worked part-time earning 96.8 percent of the earnings of never-married part-time male workers. (Presumably, this results from never-married women never having to sidetrack their careers for a spouse or children.)

Another area of good news concerns the value of education for career women, which appears to benefit women more so than men vis-a-vis wage growth.
At all levels of education, women have fared better than men with respect to earnings growth. Although both women and men with less than a high school diploma have experienced a decline in inflation-adjusted earnings since 1979, the drop for women was significantly less than that for men—10 percent versus 28 percent. Earnings for women with college degrees have increased by 34 percent since 1979 on an inflation-adjusted basis, while earnings of male college graduates have risen by 18 percent.
The BLS data also shed some light on certain situations that may account for some of the discrepancy in pay between the sexes. When median usual weekly earnings were stratified by gender and hours worked, approximately 13.4 million female workers worked 1-34 hours per week, versus 5.9 million men. For workers employed 35 or more hours per week, there were 42.8 million female workers versus 54.4 male workers. And for employees who worked 60 or more hours per week, men outnumbered women by more than three to one (3.4 million male workers versus 1.0 million female workers.)

Another factor impacting median wages between males and females is occupation, and this particular circumstance goes beyond any sort of consideration of risk based on gender. As noted in the study, and observed elsewhere, men and women tend to work in different professions - even when their educational backgrounds are similar.
Women and men tend to work in different managerial and professional occupations. In 2005, among professional and related occupations, for example, women were much less likely than men to be employed in some of the highest paying fields, such as engineering and computer and mathematical occupations. Instead, women were more likely to work in lower paying professional occupations, such as education, training, and library occupations.
What becomes crystal clear after perusing the BLS study is that women generally work fewer hours per week then men, and do so in less lucrative professions. In fact, it's a wonder that females earn as much of a percentage of men's salaries as they do; one might expect the ratio to be much lower given the facts as they are known to us. Unfortunately, the increase in percentage of male wages earned by females is as much a reflection of stagnant wages - particularly for black and Hispanic men - as it is a betterment of the prospects for female wage-earners.

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