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Gender Pay Gaps: Myths and Realities

Women get paid less than their male counterparts; this is a widely-accepted belief, and it is, on the whole, true. But the reasons for the gender gap in wages aren't as clear cut as some would have you believe. There are many reasons women earn less than men, and yes, some of them have to do with old-fashioned discrimination, but other reasons include education and industry occupation breakdowns.

The Facts: Female Pay

First the facts; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2009 women who worked full time and earned a salary were paid median weekly earnings of $657, which was just under 80 percent of what male peers made at $739. Some other data from the BLS:

  • Age matters. Women 55 to 64 earned $727 median weekly earnings, higher than any other group. Women 16 to 24 earned just $424.
  • Education is good. Since 1979, women with a bachelor's degree or higher education have increased their earnings by 33.4 percent. In fact, women have increased their pay faster then men, when considered by educational growth.
  • Shorter is better. Women who work part-time earn more than men who work part-time; $229 median weekly earnings vs. $222.
  • Industry is key. In agriculture and related industries, women earn 93 percent of what men do, but in finance and insurance women earn just 62 percent of men's earnings.

Gender Pay Equality

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was enacted, promising that men and women who work in the same place doing the same job would make the same wage. While the Act has been successful in helping increase female earning power, the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in 2008 to help give those who felt discriminated against more effective ways to pursue claims, mostly by allowing a longer period of time for lawsuits to be filed. The bill passed in the House in 2009, but is slated for debate in the Senate at the end of this year.

How Women Can Increase Earning Power

Pay inequities exist for many reasons. One reason is the careers women choose; for example, computer and engineering fields are high-paying industries, but in 2009, women accounted for just 9 percent of the industry. Women make up more than 69 percent of employees in education and health care fields, but those industries typically pay lower wages.

Another reason has been educational differences, but women now make up the majority of students on college campuses. Women have learned the value of an education in getting higher-paying jobs and negotiating higher salaries. To continue this trend, women should consider seeking an education in fields that are more lucrative, even though they are often male-oriented. Women earned the most money in 2009 in management, business, and financial operations, a whopping $955 in median weekly earnings. Other high-paying industries include professional occupations, such as pharmacists, doctors and lawyers.

Along with the legal right to earn equal pay which is being fought in Washington, D.C., women can pursue higher education and break the barriers of male-dominated industries. Being aware of the pay scale for your industry another way to ensure you are being fairly compensated for your labor; demand to know the pay scale for your job. Equal pay for equal work is a right everyone in America is entitled to, regardless of gender.

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