50 years after Equal Pay Act's passage, gender wage gap still persists

Some studies estimate that the gender wage gap might not close until 2057.

Despite making great strides in the past 50 years, the gender wage gap in the United States has stagnated for almost a decade.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. A study by the Institute of Women's Policy Research, which used census data to report,

suggests that the gender wage gap will not close until 2057.

Still no equal pay for women: Pay women gender gap unequalMSN News: Charles W. Jones

Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, who teach labor economics at Cornell University and worked on a research project on the U.S. gender pay gap, say that despite a narrowing of the gap, women are still disadvantaged in the labor market.

Blau and Kahn attribute this to differences in qualifications as well as the lingering possibility of discrimination.

Blau said that although gender differences in qualifications have been greatly reduced, they still exist.

WOMEN STILL DISADVANTAGED IN LABOR MARKET

"One big issue is gender differences in workforce attachment," she said. "Women are now much more firmly attached to the labor market than they used to be. But those types of differences have not disappeared entirely, and they can be quite important in high-performance professions and at high levels of management."

The need to balance work and family, Blau said, also plays a role, and may be the "the cutting-edge problem facing women in the labor market today."

Blau said that although discrimination has lessened over the years and contributed to a narrowing of the gender pay, its vestiges exist.

"Rather than being overt and conscious, it may be more covert and subtle, and even unconscious," she said.

Asked about the recent slowdown in wage convergence, Blau said her research with Kahn suggests that improvements in women's qualifications and declines in discrimination are not occurring as rapidly as they once did.

Kahn said that the history of the gender pay gap shows that female-to-male pay ratio was about 60 percent for a very long time, rising quickly in the 1980s as women gained more experience in the labor market.

"And it has been rising since, just not nearly as quickly in the 1980s," he said.

Kahn said that over the next five to 10 years, as women's education continues to rise faster than men's  57 percent of graduating college students are women  and they filter into the labor market,  he expects the overall pay gap to lessen.

WOMEN UNDERREPRESENTED IN STEM FIELDS

Blau said that differences in the occupations and industries men and women work in also contribute to the wage gap.

"For example the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are high paying, and women are underrepresented," she said.

"I think there could be more awareness about the wage gap sometimes when we focus on the progress which is hopeful to younger women, we lose fact that there are still obstacles," she said. "Yes, we have made enormous gain on one hand, but we are still falling short of the 100 percent."

Richard Cohen, a New York-based attorney who specializes in labor law, said a lot of women are sometimes not even aware of the Equal Pay Act, which was passed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy to ensure parity in wages between men and women.

"A lot of companies don't disclose wages, and they chill people from trying to find out what everyone makes," he said. "When women do realize, they keep quiet. Sometimes something else makes them angry  like sexual harassment  and then the wage gap gets mentioned in a lawsuit."

Cohen's advice to companies is to be aware of the Equal Pay Act.

"Not only is it the law, it's good business," he said.

President Barack Obama observed the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act today. "When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn't just be getting a little bit of bacon," he said in a speech.

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