Women Still Earn Less in Comparable Jobs : Pay: Education differences and bias are cited as reasons for the gender gap.


Even as women have become nearly half of America’s work force, a large gender gap persists in their pay.

In 1990, full-time women workers earned an average of 66% of what men were paid, an increase from the 59% they earned a decade earlier, according to U.S. Census data.

Women with college degrees earn, on average, only slightly more than men with high school diplomas, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.


The gap continues even in occupations in which women and men have about the same average education and age. In administrative jobs, white women who are about the same age as white men and have a slightly lower level of education earn 58% of what their white male counterparts do--the same percentage as in 1960.

The pay for women tends to drop with each child they have. While white female administrators with no children make 67% of what their white male counterparts earn, those with two children make only 55%. Conversely, men with children experience no drop in earnings.

Employers least prone to provide comparable pay for women: banking and insurance. The most equitable: government and the military.

But the pay gap has narrowed sharply for younger women, who now earn 85% of what men are paid.

Professional white women who were 30 or younger in 1990, for example, garnered 84% of what their white male counterparts were paid. Among younger women workers--who now have about the same education level as young men--the pay gap is least in technical jobs and greatest in service jobs.

One reason the gap has narrowed, the Labor Department said, is that the earnings of men have drifted downward in the past two decades. Women also have improved their education levels relative to men and have fewer career interruptions to have children.


As older female workers who entered the job market with much less education and experience than their male cohorts retire, experts say the gender gap is expected to close further.

What causes the gap? Overall, the education differences for adults 25 and older remain significant: 24.8% of men have a bachelor’s or advanced degree, compared with 19.2% of women. One government survey showed that women on average spend 15% of their potential work years away from the job, disrupting careers. They are heavily clustered in female-dominated fields such as teaching and nursing that are more conducive to a family life but pay less than male-dominated fields such as law, business and engineering.

Same Skills, Less Pay

But a National Academy of Sciences study found that up to half of the pay gap probably is the result of discrimination. The Glass Ceiling Commission pointed to a 1990 study that tracked graduates from the nation’s top 20 business schools and found that in their first year out, men earned 12% more than women. The gap, other studies have found, widens as men and women progress in their careers.

Female-dominated jobs, such as food preparation, often require the same level of skill as male-dominated jobs, such as custodial work, but often pay much less, said Diane Crothers, a policy analyst with the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau. “Women’s kinds of jobs are perceived as less valuable or less difficult than men’s jobs,” Crothers said, adding that in many jobs, women are simply hired for less pay.

Often, experts say, women are given the same duties as men but with a lesser title and pay, or they are not considered for promotions by male bosses who steer away from giving women jobs that might require time away from children on nights or weekends.

While Diane Skillsky spent 22 years at the Redwood City, Calif., Lucky supermarket store, much of it as a checker, she said men were largely promoted from cashier jobs to the meat and produce departments, training grounds for top jobs. Skillsky took no time off to have children. But she said payroll records showed that a man with similar tenure at the Redwood City store made about twice as much as she did--about $65,000 a year.


Skillsky was one of thousands of female Lucky workers in Northern California whose sex discrimination lawsuit resulted in a 1993 fine of more than $100 million against the supermarket chain. A U.S. District Court judge found that “sex discrimination was standard operating procedure” at the stores there.

“This is the good old boy system trying to find a reason to pay us less,” Skillsky said.