April 19, 2005 is National Pay Equity Day. Each year the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) organizes one day dedicated to raising awareness about issues of unfair pay among women and people of color. Pay Equity Day is observed in April because that is how long into the current year a woman must work to earn the same as a man earned the previous year. A Tuesday was selected because that is the day when women’s wages catch up with men’s wages from the previous week.
It is tempting to think that the wage gap no longer exists. Years of equal employment opportunity legislation as well as increasing access to higher education and specialized training, has lulled many of us into believing income discrepancies are isolated events. Unfortunately, they are not. They even exist in our own industry.
Evidence from the 2000 Census shows the 730,730 full-time year-round employees between the ages of 35 and 54 in accounting and auditing profession, 54 percent are women. Despite representing a majority in the field, these women, have a median income that is 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
A more recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that in 2002, the industry’s 851,000 female accountants and auditors had a median weekly income of $734 compared with the 573,000 male accountants and auditors earning a median weekly income of $980. Thus women’s median earnings represent 74.9 percent of men’s.
These statistics demonstrate that while the wage gap continues to close, it does still exist. What they don’t reveal is how large and potentially devastating that gap can be as it accumulates over years. Still a Man’s Labor Market: the Long-Term Earnings Gap, published in 2004 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, explores the long-term effects of the wage gap and why it is still an important issue for public discussion.
The most significant finding in the report is that the conventional methods of measuring wage unfairness and the workplace experience of both men and women is misleading because it does not take into account the differences in lifetime earnings. More precisely, during their prime earning years (ages 26 to 59) earn only 38 percent of what men make during the same period. The report also cites another study done between 1983 and 1998 which found that across those fifteen years women of prime earning age made a total of $273,592. Compare that the average earning for a man, $722,693, over the same period and the problem becomes evident. Looked at in this way, the gap is much larger than the 23 percent gap commonly reported using traditional methods of calculating the wage gap.
The reasons for this gap are complex, but essentially it comes down to the fact that “compared with men, women are more likely to work part-time, less likely to work year round, and more likely to have entire years out of the labor force.” For instance, the majority, 52 percent, of women had at least one calendar year without earnings while only 16 percent of men did across the 15 years studied. In addition, women work fewer hours than men, averaging just 1,498 hours annually, which is 700 hours less than men. Even women reporting income in every year of the 15 year period, worked 500 hours less than men. The practical expression of this difference is that most women retire without pensions, so they lack security in their old age.
Equal employment and anti-discrimination laws continue opening doors for women. In addition, the transition of the economy from agrarian-based to knowledge based, makes the physical advantages of men increasingly irrelevant as women make gains in higher education and specialized training. In order to achieve true income parity with men, however, requires systemic changes in both the practices and policies balancing work and life. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go.