MARCUS: Eye on the Pie

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Morton Marcus

March is Women’s History Month and March 24 is Equal Pay Day according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That is the day working women finally make up the difference between what they earned last year and what men earned last year.

That’s more drama than one expects from the Census Bureau. Other groups have later dates, but there’s no need to quibble over a publicity stunt meant to highlight a social and statistical reality.

How big is the Gap between the median earnings of men and of women? For all women workers compared with all men workers, the Census Bureau reports the Gap in 2020 was 27.4%, a sum equivalent to $13,551 for the year. However, the Gap closes to 17% or $10,435 when we consider only full-time year-round workers.

These figures are substantial improvements on the data from 50 years ago. Then, in 1970, the Gap for all workers was 61.8% and $26,380 in 2020 buying power after adjustment for inflation. Similarly, the Gap in 1970 for full-time, year-round workers was 40.6% ($21,732 in 2020 dollars).

That’s a 48.0% reduction in the Gap for both all women and for those working full-time, year-round. In terms of buying power, adjusted for inflation, all women saw an increase of $12,829 while the full-time, year-round workers benefited by $11,297.

But the women of today are not the women of 1970. The economy of today is unlike that of half a century ago. The Gap, reduced, still remains.

Part of the reason for the Gap is that men and women do not hold the same types of jobs; their occupation profiles are different. Many reasons exist for this discrepancy. The education of women for careers remains different from that of men. It’s not like it was in the ‘70s, but it is still differentiated. Call it “discrimination” or “custom” or “natural proclivities,” but it manifests as disparities.

Topping a list of 125 occupations for which we have comparable 2021 wage data, are compliance officers, 50% of whom are women, who have a 6.9% greater median earnings figure than men.

Among pharmacists, 54.3% are women with a 3.8% edge in median earnings. In the field of physical therapy, 63.5% are women but they earn 4.7% less than men.

Then consider personal financial advisors where only 39.6% are women who earn only 34.8% of men in that occupation. Those “exemplary” women who are Chief Executive Officers are 30.2% of all such business leaders yet earn 30% less than their male counterparts.

These raw data don’t tell the story in full. Some say, you must factor in experience, age, education and other attributes of the individuals. Others would add the size of the firm, its ownership, and the industry in which it functions.

Maybe what we really need is to just look at performance relative to resources/opportunity.

Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at [email protected].