Women in their 20s are closing the pay gap between themselves and men their age, yet for all other age groups, the gap remains large. Authorities argue whether or not the rise in pay for young women marks a new trend in pay equity or the ultimate glass ceiling.
Although most women are still making only 73 cents to their male counterparts dollar, women in their 20s make 92.1 cents for each dollar that their male coworkers earn.
Charlotte Fishman, director of the Higher Education Legal Advocacy Project for the Equal Rights Advocate said, “At the beginning of their careers, many women were given equal salary to men, it is just that over time women face many small obstacles, such as not getting the same opportunity for publishing, passed over for raises or not being hired to a tenure position, that over time these obstacles lead to a large discrepancy in pay.”
Fishman also said that in recent studies held by MIT, younger female professors were very happy with their positions and were being paid equitably to men. However, older professors were frustrated and marginalized even though they had been happy with their pay when they were first hired.
“The conclusion? Just because men and women were hired at the same salary does not mean they have the same professional trajectory,” said Fishman.
Many Mills women said that they do not expect to make a lot of money after graduating, but agree that people with bachelor’s degrees make more money than people with only a high school diploma.
“Most of the jobs that I am interested in are low paying, social work pays 25,000 to 30,000 a year, which is what a janitor in the bay area makes,” said junior Rachel Herndon. The other thing is, my sense of worth is raised by my education, she added.
Women’s earnings have been increasing by an average if a third of a cent increase per year for the last 26 years
Robert Bernstein, public affairs specialist for the census bureau said that “trends show that women are catching up, not falling behind.”
Part of the reason why women are able to catch men is not because they are making more, but because men are making less, according to the national committee on pay equity (NCPE). The wage gap has narrowed from 64 percent in 1986 to 73 percent in 2000, to a yearly income difference of $9,984.
The gain in equity is 40 percent due to an increase in women’s pay, and 60 percent due to a decrease in men’s pay according to the NCPE. However, census data shows that the gap fluctuates often. For example, women in 1997 earned 74 cents to a man’s dollar in comparison to last year’s 73 cents.
“I know there is a disparity but I cannot figure out why,” said Cleavon Smith, second year MFA student. “I’ve seen it everywhere except the military.”
Given these statistics, are women benefiting from a new trend of gain or hitting the ultimate glass ceiling?
Census authorities believe that women’s pay will one day be equitable to, or even surpass that of men. The reason is that women in their 20s are better educated than ever before, and educational achievement and earnings go hand in hand, said Bernstein.
Fishman feels differently. “My opinion is that discrimination against women is alive and well. In my generation women were having trouble getting jobs at all, and people said if you get women in the workforce, nature will take its course but it hasn’t for 30 to 40 years. It’s not a glass ceiling, it’s a concrete ceiling.”
Fishman said, “To find a real difference between men and women’s pay, you must compare all workers, both full and part time, of both genders, then you will find that women are making 59 cents to their male counterparts.”
While more women are getting better educated, they are not necessarily making more money.
“Just because I have a college degree doesn’t mean I have a better chance of making much more money,” freshwoman Kalikia Dugger said. “I hope for an increase in salary from my degree, but more importantly a sense of self worth. But still I think I might have to start taking business classes so I can utilize my skills,” she said.
In 1999, the percentage of men with a bachelor’s degree was 4.4 percent higher than that of women, whereas in 1970, the difference was 5.9 percent higher. The median earnings of women with a high school diploma was $23,719 in 2000 compared to men’s $32,493. The gap only widened with a bachelor’s degree as women with a four year college degree earned $38,208 and men earned $53,505.
Perhaps the most outrageous figures are those of men and women with professional degrees (law or medical), with women making $55,460 and men earning $90, 653 according to 1999 census information.
According to the US department of labor, in 1998 a female computer programmer earns $4,000 less than her male counterpart, and female lawyer earns on average $11,000 less than a male attorney.
In academia, a national study of medical schools, after 11 years on faculty, 23 percent of the male physicians had earned the rank of full professor whereas only five percent of women had earned the same rank. In this study, researchers held the number of hours per week worked constant.
“I think the disparity between men and women depends,” said Herndon. “Migrant workers and senators all make the same, it’s just everybody in the middle who suffers the inequity,” she added.
Women have made progress in entering occupations traditionally held by men-especially executive and professional specialty occupations-but the majority of women are still holding traditionally “female” occupations such as administrative assistants or teachers.
The 2000 US census shows that 55 percent of women work in female-dominated occupations, defined as jobs in which women hold 70 percent or more of the work force, while men hold only 8.5 percent of these jobs. Regardless, men still receive about 20 percent more than women in these fields.
The challenge for women of our generation then is to change the work culture, said Fishman. “The model worker is the unencumbered male who can go anywhere, anytime. And that is not the majority of the workforce, men or women.”