Feb 222005
Authors: Jake Blumberg

Women have been fighting for equality with men for over a century in the United States, and according to statistics, they are making headway in the working world.

Women have closed in on the pay gap with men in recent years, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). In 1979, the first year the bureau tracked the pay differences between men and women in the United States, women made 63 cents to every dollar their male counterpart was making in the workforce.

In the latest BLS survey, in 2004, overall female median salaries were 80 percent of their male counterparts, meaning women made 80 cents for every dollar male counterpart earned. In total, women, over 16 years of age in the workforce, had an average median salary of $573 per week, compared to a weekly median salary of $713 for men.

Alexandra Bernasek, an associate economics professor as well as a teacher of Women in the Economy, has noticed some trends throughout the years in the pay gap between men and women.

"The pay gap between young people today is much smaller than the gap in older groups," Bernasek said. "The gap really grows with people who are in their 30s, which are traditionally the child bearing years for women, when they may be out of the workplace; when families tend to start, that is when the pay gap tends to grow more noticeably."

Bernasek said the pay gap can be attributed to a variety of causes, including the different career choices that men and women make.

"One of the standard explanations for the pay gap is that men and women continue to invest in different amounts and different types of human capital," Bernasek said. "Some men choose different types of careers then some women do, and this can cause a gap in pay, just from career to career."

An example of this from the BLS survey would be the field of Architecture and Engineering. Out of a survey group of 60,000 people, an average of 2,170 men earned a median salary $1,139 a month in the field, compared to an average 331 women earning $880 a month in the field.

Along with choices in careers, some believe that the pay gap can be attributed to physical differences that exist between men and women.

"In certain instances, there are some jobs that men deserved to be paid more for, because they can do the job better than a woman could," said Jacob Yelenick, a sophomore life science major. "Take construction work for instance; men are physically stronger, and so they should be paid more for their work. If it doesn't have to do with physical strength, though, men and women should definitely be paid equally for their work."

Bernasek believes that there is also discrimination present in today's working world toward women, especially at smaller companies, that has an effect on the pay gap today.

"Smaller firms tend to rely on having their employee's there at work all the time, and in some cases, they may not hire a woman because they are afraid she will leave to have a child," Bernasek said. "Although it's illegal, there are still instances of women being penalized for child bearing."

Although the gap has closed noticeably in recent years, the fact that a gap still exists troubles some, like Jamy Traub, a senior social work major.

"It is definitely not fair that there is a gap at all anymore," Traub said. "In my opinion, it is always going to be that way. It has been this way for so long that I don't know if we can change as a society; I hope we can, but I don't know if we can."

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