Are U.S. Women Really Failing to Catch Up to Men on Pay?


The famously data-savvy website FiveThirtyEight recently filed a story called “Why Women Are No Longer Catching Up to Men on Pay.” I recommend the article itself but the headline is wrong.

U.S. women are still gradually gaining on men. It’s the rate of gain that has become painfully slow since 2001. In that year, the women’s to men’s annual earnings ratio was 76.3, compared with 78.3 in 2013. If we look at the weekly earnings ratio, the numbers are 76.4 in 2001 and 82.5 in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of course, even if some progress is still being made, the slowdown bears explaining. What’s behind it?

The FiveThirtyEight article, which draws on a new analysis by researchers Martha J. Bailey and Thomas A. DiPrete, suggests that long work hours play a major role.

The average man working a typical full-time job, 35 to 49 hours a week, now earns about $26 an hour. But the man working 50 hours a week or more now earns close to $33 an hour … Men make up a bit more than half the full-time workforce, but they account for more than 70 percent of those working 50 hours a week or more. So as wage gains have gone disproportionately to people working long hours, they have also gone disproportionately to men, widening the earnings divide between men and women overall.

That’s compelling data, but it still only accounts for 15% of the earnings gap. So, there must be a raft of other issues at play.


Source: Department of Labor

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know how to weigh these “other” issues. Some of the gap is due to the fact that men and women do not choose to work in the same industries and occupations at the same rates. But forms of cultural bias may be influencing those choices (e.g., women being made to feel uncomfortable or even harassed when they work as minorities in certain occupations).

Even within occupations, however, there are often large gaps. For example:

  • Among personal finance advisors, women make 61.3% of male wages.
  • Among physicians and surgeons, they earn 62.24%.
  • Among financial managers, they earn 67.44%,

And this is despite the fact that women are outpacing men in terms of college enrollment as well as graduation in the U.S.

Of course, there are also cultural differences in how much time women and men are expected to take care of children, do housework, and the like. This influences work hours and, possibly, occupational selections.

The earning gaps is also related to the so-called glass ceiling, which is the metaphor used to explain the ratio of top female leaders to top male leaders.

Many corporate executives are still ignorant of the gender ratios. One 2015 Weber Shandwick/KRC Research survey of C-suite leaders around the world found that, on average, respondents guessed that 23% of large companies had female CEOs.  Yet, at the time of the survey, only 4.6% of CEOs at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies were women.

Today, just 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO roles are filled by women.


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