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March 06, 2011

US Women Can't Close the Pay Gap

by Faiza Elmasry

More females graduate from college, but men still make more money

March is Women’s History Month in the United States, an opportunity to examine how far women have come and the areas where there is still work to be done. One of these areas is employment and income, according to a recent report released by the White House.

"Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being" offers a look at the full measure of a woman’s life.

"It’s the first comprehensive federal report of this nature since President Kennedy appointed Eleanor Roosevelt in the early 1960s to do a report on women," says Rebecca Blank, undersecretary of economic affairs, adding the new report covers five main areas of women’s lives. "It brings together data focusing on families, education, income and employment, health, and crime and violence, and really highlights the trends of what’s happening in women’s lives across all of those domains over the last 20 to 30 years."

Compiling data from a variety of federal agencies, Blank says, revealed both positive and negative trends. Women are less likely than in the past to be the victims of violent crimes, including homicide. Women are marrying later and having fewer children than in the past. They make up 51 percent of the general population, and 57 percent of Americans over 65. Women are more likely than men to face health problems such as arthritis, obesity and depression… and are less likely to suffer from heart disease and diabetes. The report highlights significant improvement in the field of education.

"There is good news in this report that suggests that women, their educational rates, are growing faster than men's," says Blank. "In fact, if you look at young women, they are graduating from college at a higher rate than young men right now in the United States. That’s true among all race and ethnic groups, not just white women."

But women’s advancement in education hasn’t translated into income equality in the workplace.  

"One reason is that they are not going into the kind of fields that are high in income producing," says Valerie Jarrett, chairwoman of the White House Council on Women and Girls, who adds that the Obama Administration wants to eliminate that wage gap. "So the president, since early on in his administration, has had an effort to encourage women and girls to go into science and technology and engineering and math."  

There are also other reasons for the pay inequity.

"When women accept a position, they often don’t negotiate the beginning salary in the same way that a man does," says Lee Ann De Reus, associate professor of women’s studies at Penn State Altoona. "This report also indicates that once women have a job, they are not likely as men to negotiate for salary increases over the years. Also, you have a lot of women who are working part time. So there are multiple reasons why women are still trying to balance work and family in a way that men are not. Part of that gets back to what it is that we think a man’s role is in the society and what we think a woman’s role is in the society."

De Reus hopes the "Women in America" report will highlight how the issues facing women today impact children, families and society as a whole.

"The bottom line is that we all win. The country wins when we’re taking care of its citizens. I think with this report indicates that we’ll do better as a nation and our future will be brighter, if we start attending to the needs of women. It will only benefit all of us."

The authors hope the information they’ve gathered in the "Women in America" report will translate into policies and initiatives to help women move forward and prepare girls for a life that’s better than what their mothers and grandmothers had.