Our region persists in underpaying women, say researchers SABINA DEITRICK and CHRISTOPHER BRIEM
April 27, 2008 4:00 AM
This past Tuesday, Pennsylvania Democrats made a historic choice between a woman and an African American to be their party's presidential nominee in November. For many, the significance of this choice was powerful and emotional, a reminder of how far women and African Americans have traveled to achieve equality in our society.
Tuesday also was Equal Pay Day, a day set up by the National Commission on Pay Equity to remind Americans of how far women have to travel to achieve equal pay for their labor. Equal Pay Day recognizes the additional time women must work, on average, to equal the average male earnings of the previous year. This year it didn't arrive until April 22, which means women must work nearly 16 months to earn as much as men make in 12 months. Minority woman must work even longer.
Despite these differences, women have made significant earnings gains in recent decades. And in some regions, younger and better educated women have closed or nearly closed the gender wage gap.
Not so in Pittsburgh.
Sabina Deitrick is co-director of the Urban and Regional Analysis Program and Christopher Briem is a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Social and Urban Research (www.ucsur.pitt.edu). They are co-authors of the report, "Gender Wage Disparity in the Pittsburgh Region."
As in the rest of the United States, women's roles in the Pittsburgh region have expanded and grown. Today, women represent nearly half of the region's work force.
When it comes to pay, however, equality is hard to come by in Pittsburgh. The gender wage gap is wider here than the national average and wider than in most other large regions of the country. Women in Pittsburgh, working full time and all year, not only earn less than men, on average, but they also earn less than women in similar metro areas.
One reason is Pittsburgh's industrial legacy. Through much of our history, Pittsburgh industries did not want women in the work place, and the region has paid a price for this lack of diversity. Women have been less likely to enter and remain in the Pittsburgh work force than in other urban areas.
When steel collapsed in the 1980s and the region lost more than 150,000 manufacturing jobs, more women than ever entered the local work force to help their families make ends meet. It would take another decade, until the end of the 1990s, before women's labor-force participation rates in Pittsburgh caught up to the rest of the country, but women's earnings continued to lag.
Another factor has been the general economic climate. Our research indicates that, on average, faster growing places, such as San Francisco, Seattle, New York and San Diego, have a narrower gap in pay between full-time female and male workers than slower growing ones. Washington, D.C., and state capital regions, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham and Hartford, also rank as more equitable environments for women workers -- a not unexpected finding, given the role of the civil service in reducing discrimination.
Our research focuses only on full-time, full-year workers. Of course, in terms of inequities, part-time workers earn less per hour, on average, than full-time workers, and more women than men work part-time. So the gender wage gap actually is wider than the measurements reflected in the report.
Many readers at this point will be thinking about the factors that influence a worker's earnings -- educational attainment, age, marital status, work experience and work history, the presence or absence of children, and so on. But even when controlling for many of these variables, the gender wage gap in Pittsburgh remains much larger than in many other metropolitan areas.
A startling example is in the management field. Women working full time in management positions in private, for-profit firms in Pittsburgh earned just 58 percent of men's earnings in 2000. Women managers in the region's large nonprofit sector didn't fare much better, earning 64 percent of men's earnings. Women in management in Pittsburgh also fared worse than women in management nationally, earning just 90 percent of the median earnings of female managers in both the private, for-profit and nonprofit sectors.
The earnings differential between men and women in the management sector points to another inequity in the region. Higher education, on average, does not necessarily narrow the gender wage gap in Pittsburgh. Women with less than a high school education earned 75 percent of similarly educated men in 2000, while women with a graduate degree fared worse, earning 71 percent of men's earnings.
What are the implications?
For the region, attracting and retaining the best workers is important for regional growth. Promoting fair pay isn't just an equity issue anymore, it's a bottom-line one for firms and the region. Government can enforce and expand equal opportunity laws. Public policy makers can enhance investments in women -- and male workers -- through educational opportunities and by promoting family-friendly work environments.
Promoting careers for women in traditionally male fields -- such as in technical and scientific disciplines -- addresses gender segregation in occupations and industries. Many educational institutions are engaged in such efforts, which need to be expanded.
There's plenty of room for leadership on the issue. The city of Pittsburgh has embarked on its own gender pay audit. It's time for other governmental units to do the same. Private firms and large nonprofit organizations also should evaluate their pay policies to promote gender equality.
Changing its industrial structure and culture is not something that comes easily to Pittsburgh. The Women and Girls Foundation and a host of other advocacy organizations work tirelessly on equity issues, but more is needed. The public sector, nonprofit sector and private sector need to come together in more public ways to demonstrate a commitment to gender pay equality and to set examples.
Let's work to have Equal Pay Day take place on New Year's Day rather than primary day in coming years.