American women are paid 77 cents to every $1 made by men, a stubborn statistic causing consternation and debate among researchers and politicians. A report out this week shows the so-called “pay gap” is even wider in Utah, with the average female full-time worker here pulling in only 69 cents on the dollar.
Utah is 48th in the nation, its pay gap exceeded only by Louisiana (67 percent) and Wyoming (64 percent). The gap is narrowest in the District of Columbia (91 percent). This year’s study isn’t much different from those of previous years. The gap is persistent.
The data behind the gap is not disputed, coming from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Education. But explaining the reasons for the gap is a vexing challenge.
“Some of that difference is going to be a result of choices people make,” said Catherine Hill, director of research for the American Association of University Women. Factors include choice of occupation, work patterns, education and industry sectors, she said, “but these factors don’t explain the entire pay gap.”
In a phone interview, Hill said her organization wonders, “How much of the pay gap is a matter of choices, or choices people think you’re going to make? Some of the stereotypes people carry around in their heads … Do we assume she wouldn’t be interested in the promotion? You don’t know just by looking at her.”
Hill’s group hopes the statistical identifications of the ongoing pay gap will help prod employers and policy makers to actively address the issue.
“Some of these assumptions are what we can tackle and start talking about, and that employers will become more systematic in how they hire people and establish pay.”
One tool, she said, could be the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act before Congress.
“There is room for federal guidance, so that all of our employers act like our best employers. It’s just plain good human resources practices … fairness, systematic, transparent processes. Not all employers are the best employers. We all have blind spots.”
Employers interested in eliminating any chances for gender biases in pay should do self audits. “If you see a big gap not explained, there should be red flags,” Hill said.
State by state, industrial mixes, race and ethnicity and cultural factors come into play. Utah, for example, has a higher birth rate and larger families, meaning fewer adult women may be in the full-time workforce.
“Mothers tend to have lower pay than other women over time,” Hill said.
Need for federal intervention is disputed. Other experts say the gap is essentially explained by the various demographic factors and there’s no documentation of any systematic problems of discrimination.
It’s also becoming an issue in the presidential race. President Obama in 2009 signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to pursue pay discrimination suits, and he has voiced support for the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, bumped into the issue Wednesday as the campaign heated up over women’s topics.