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Gender wage gap still exists, author asserts

By: Doug Snover

Sept. 23, 2006

If you are a woman with a career or just a job, chances are you’re being underpaid for the work you do, according to Evelyn Murphy

A man doing the same work would be better rewarded, says Murphy, author of “Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men and What to Do About It.” About 23 percent better, to be exact.

The “gender wage gap” phenomenon has been going on since women entered the workforce, says Murphy, whose book traces the ups and downs of women’s wages since the early 1960s.

The question is: Is the gap closing or widening?

Murphy, a Ph.D. economist, former corporate executive and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1987 to 1991, will bring her research and plan of action to the Kyrene Corridor on Sept. 29. She is scheduled to appear from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Get Psyched!, “a community-oriented service center and store dedicated to providing services and products of a psychological nature to Valley residents.”

Murphy, founder and president of the WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) Project Inc. ( discussed her book via e-mail with The Wrangler News.

“My source for these statistics is US government data from the Census Bureau and the Labor Department,” said Murphy, whose work has been criticized by some as being based more on anecdotes than on statistics.

The main statistic in her work is this: Women who work full-time earn only 77 cents for every full-time male dollar.

“There are some professions in which the gap between women’s earnings and men’s is smaller than other professions, such as teachers and nurses,” Murphy wrote.

“This smaller variance tends to exist in highly unionized professions.”

“But keep in mind, professions don’t discriminate against women, employers do,” she wrote in her e-mail answer to Wrangler News’ questions.

“The gender wage gap takes shape in thousands and thousands of workplaces throughout America, where women are treated and paid inequitably, not because of their skills, qualifications, responsibilities or commitment to work, but because they are women. Often this discrimination is subtle -- the consequences of unexamined and outdated stereotypes and biases that men and women bring into workplaces about women workers.

Yet some discrimination is overt even 40 years after such behavior became illegal in American workplaces.”

Murphy calculates that in 1960, “women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by men.” The gender wage gap narrowed slowly but steadily, until by 1993 women were making 77 cents to a man's dollar,” she wrote in “Getting Even.”

Then a strange thing happened: The gap began to grow again, according to Murphy.

“Back in the 1960s, when I started working full-time as a newly minted Ph.D. economist, women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by men,” Murphy wrote in her book.

“At the time, I accepted the common explanation that the gender wage gap existed because of a ‘merit gap.’ Women, this theory went, were not as well educated as men, hadn’t worked as long, or were working in low-skill, stopgap jobs until they got married while men were working at higher-end jobs as family breadwinners. But this ‘merit gap’ was closing. Women were streaming into colleges and jobs. Like many observers, I was convinced that the wage gap would soon close.”

“Over my working life, I have kept my eye on that number. And for roughly the next two decades, my widely shared expectation seemed to be coming true. The gender wage gap narrowed slowly but steadily. By 1993, women were making 77 cents to a man's dollar.”

“Then came a shock. In 1994, despite the growing economy, the gender wage gap abruptly widened,” she wrote. “That took my breath away. Worse, this reversal came at a time when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was starting its spectacular climb and the economy was chugging into a period of historically high employment, when every worker was needed, when highly qualified women had long been graduating at the same rates as men. How could that be?”

“Nor was this increased wage gap a statistical aberration. Over the next several years, women continued to lose ground. This made no sense. More than 40 million American working women were educated, experienced, and holding full-time jobs comparable to men’s. This was a fair comparison of full-time female workers to full-time male workers, apples to apples. It left out all women who worked part-time, who were on leave, or who had dropped out of the labor force to be stay-at-home moms or caretakers for elderly relatives. Like men, these women had families dependent on their earnings. Some, like some men, were furiously ambitious, working night and day to get ahead. Most, like most men, worked hard at their nine-to-five or swing-shift schedules to keep those badly needed paychecks coming in. Why, instead of catching up, were these hardworking women suddenly falling further behind? What had changed? And why weren't women alarmed by this?”

“With more women graduating from college in the 1990s, more working women depending on paychecks to support themselves and their families, and very few women coming off welfare rolls in states where reform legislation preceded federal action, the only possible explanation for the widening gender wage gap is unfair, inequitable treatment of working women at their jobs, in short, discrimination,” she told Wrangler News.

“For 23 cents of difference to exist between women and men’s earnings today means that women face workplace discrimination in every region of the country, in public, private and nonprofit businesses, and from large scale employers to those with only a handful of employees,” she added.

“Getting Even” also reveals a wage gap between White/Caucasian women and minority women.

“African American women earn only 70 cents and that earning difference an added hardship for these women,” Murphy told Wrangler News. “Is this a “major factor” in the 77 cents calculation? It’s a factor. But the real point is that, in the year 2006, women – all women – should be earning 95 cents to $1 dollar for every dollar men earn if workplaces treated everyone fairly and equitably.”

“By the way, take note,” she stressed in her e-mail. “I am not saying women should be given special treatment or breaks – just be treated paid fairly and equitably for the work they do. When we treat all workers the same, we will eliminate not just gender discrimination but race, handicap and age discrimination as well.

“The State of Minnesota has proven this is possible. The State pays for the job, not who does the job and women now earn 97 cents for men’s dollar in a paycheck.”

Though she cites Minnesota’s success in closing the wage gap, Murphy is not pushing for heavy-handed government intervention to equalize wages between genders.

“Government’s role vis-à-vis business is largely as a regulator,” she said.

“With real life limits to public funding of enforcement actions, governments (federal, state and local) can do three things: (1) Take strong enforcement actions against egregious violators of anti-discrimination laws; (2) set an example by paying women employees dollar-for-dollar with male counterparts and by ensuring equitable representation of women at all levels of government; and (3) create incentives which motivate private sector employers to eliminate discriminatory behavior on their own.”

Her book traces some 40 years of wage inequity, but Murphy remains optimistic.

“We can get rid of the wage gap in ten years,” she predicts in “Getting Even.”

“It may be a bold statement to say the gender wage gap can be eliminated in ten years, but think about it,” she wrote to Wrangler News. “We don’t need more legislation. Discrimination at work is already illegal. We don’t need an intellectual breakthrough to ensure equitable pay by any employer. Any employer in the country can go to the State of Minnesota’s website and download their methodology.”

“All we need is working women acting so their boss/CEO/ president gives this issue the attention it deserves. That’s why it’s possible to accomplish this in a decade.”

“And just think of the legacy women and men can give their daughters and granddaughters, nieces and aunts: To enjoy much more financial security and independence. 

If – or is it when? – this happens, Murphy might write a sequel to “Getting Even.”

“I have heard from many women about their successful negotiations with their employers after reading “Getting Even” and following the strategy I offer readers. The title of a sequel would be “Getting Ahead” and be filled with these success stories,” she said.

Get Psyched! is at 1709 E. Guadalupe Road, on the southwest corner of Guadalupe and McClintock. Check it out online at .


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