The salary gap between men and women in the U.S. has closed significantly in the last 50 years. But despite a generation or so of serious attention to the issue, there’s still a long way to go to achieve the elusive goal of equity. “These differences aren’t going to go away overnight,” said Dr. Nancy Bush, a marketing professor at Wingate (N.C.) University, noting that equal pay for men and women was part of the Republican platform during the 1956 re-election campaign of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Men earned as much as 40 percent more than women as recently as 1969, Bush said, compared to the current-day differential of 23 percent nationwide. “Nowhere near as fast as Ike wanted it to decrease,” Bush joked. Bush said that the salary differential varies with factors such as age, geographic location (the difference is greater in the South), level of job and the type of industry. “Some of the gap may be illusory,” Bush said. “For example, a woman in business is more likely to be a project manager than a chief financial officer, who’s naturally going to earn more money.”
The fact that women also have more frequent breaks in employment also affects the differential, Bush said. Women who take significant time from their careers to raise children are an example. “So women are far more likely to be new employees than men are,” she said.
Bush said that studies show that as age of employees increases, the likelihood of significant salary difference by gender also increases. This factor also works hand-in-hand with the type of employment held by men and women. For example, Bush said that there isn’t a significant difference in salary for men and women in technology fields, affected partially by the fact that jobs there are largely populated by younger workers.
By contrast there are larger gaps between men and women in finance and banking. “On Wall Street, women are way behind,” Bush said. “For years the idea of a woman majoring in finance and going to work on Wall Street was unheard of. She could be a bookkeeper but not a manager.” The same also holds true in academics, where women are more likely to hold jobs in disciplines where the salaries for both men and women are lower.
Finally, much of the salary gap just has to do with the way it’s always been. Even though the gap may continue to narrow, Bush said, “You can’t change 500 years of history.”
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