The gender pay gap has been narrowing not because women have made great strides, labor experts say, but because men’s wages are eroding.
Marie White is a health-care aide who looks after patients in their homes in Sonoma County, Calif. There’s a shortage in her female-dominated profession, which has helped workers unionize and command better pay over the past five years – driving the pay ceiling from $6.75 to $10.50 an hour.
John Wilson of Los Angeles, meanwhile, is still trying to find a job that pays as much as he earned 12 years ago. Laid off in 1994 from a software programming job that paid $50,000 a year with full health benefits, Wilson went to work as a security officer earning minimum wage.
Now he works at the Lantana Media Campus in Santa Monica, providing security for celebrities such as Ben Affleck and Cameron Diaz. He has worked his way up to $12.25 an hour – about half his programmer pay – but pays about $100 a month for health insurance for his 15-year-old daughter.
White’s and Wilson’s experiences illustrate a noteworthy trend in the 21st-century economy: Women are closing in on men when it comes to wages, but not for the reasons anticipated – or hoped for – when gender pay equity became a rallying cry in the 1970s.
The pay gap has been narrowing not because women have made great strides, labor experts say, but because men’s wages are eroding.
The disparity in median hourly pay between men and women narrowed to 18.3 percent in August from 21.5 percent five years earlier, according to census figures.
In fact, the U.S. Labor Department noted recently that the wage differential in 2005 was the smallest since the department began tracking it 33 years ago, when it was 36.9 percent.
Even when men’s and women’s work patterns are taken into account – men tend to work more hours – the pay gap is narrowing. The difference between men’s and women’s median annual earnings shrank from 26.3 percent to 23 percent between 2000 and 2005, with women earning an average $31,858 and men $41,386.
Better-educated women have seen their pay rise – but not as much as their male peers.