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Pay gap between men and women narrowing November 29, 2012

According to the latest numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last week, based on the weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, women now earn 82 percent as much as men – up from 64 percent in 1980.

In recent discussions of the wage gap, a different figure – 77 percent – has been widely cited. That figure it also accurate, but the measure, which comes out in the spring, looks at median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers; it includes self-employed workers, which the weekly numbers exclude, and excludes seasonal workers. The figures are based on the same raw BLS data.

Most notably, in the BLS numbers released the day after Thanksgiving, the earnings of women between the ages of 25 and 34 have shot up fairly substantially over the past 32 years, from 69 percent of men’s earnings in 1980 to 92 percent in 2011.

The gap still widens, though, as women age – a sign that while many young women enter the workforce on a more equal playing field with their male counterparts, they still tend to fall behind on income as they age.

A recent study from Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes women in the business world, found that women in the business world are offered fewer of the “hot jobs” – those jobs with high visibility, central to an organization’s mission, that tend to lead to promotions down the road.

The Catalyst survey of top MBA grads found that men led projects with budgets more than twice the size of women’s, with teams that were more than three times as large, and that posed a higher risk to the company. Men also had roles with significantly more critical responsibility – one reason, Catalyst suggests in its analysis, for the persistent gender gap at senior levels that exists in the business world.

The United States is one of the only countries in the world without any guaranteed paid maternity leave.

Without the subsidized childcare costs that many nations have, many mothers have to factor child-care costs in their decision whether to return to work, and often take a leave of absence – which they’re later often penalized for when they do return to work. And in a labor market where about half of US workers get no paid sick time at all, women are still most often the ones to skip work – and forgo pay – to stay home with sick children or other family members.

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