Equal Pay Day: One Bright Spot

Did you know that “Equal Pay Day” has technically been around since 1996? I certainly did not.

This year the public awareness event is receiving what seems to be unprecedented media attention, as the country and key influencers make gender pay equality a top priority. Books like Lean In, new research from the Pew Institute and veteran journalists like Maria Shriver have brought the issue back into the limelight.

President Obama has even announced two executive orders to close the gender wage gap.

With my book, When She Makes More, coming out May 1, reporters have been reaching out to me today to capture my thoughts on the topic. Where do we see progress and how can women earn more in the workplace?

One bright spot is that young women have narrowed the pay gap. While the overall wage disparity has women making on average 77 percent less than men, the  gap, according to Pew Research, is 93 percent between Millennial men and women.

Part of what is fueling this trend is the fact that women are achieving greater academic success. Beginning in grade school, young female students are generally earning higher grades than their male classmates, due to what researchers cite as better “approaches towards learning.” Girls are characterized as more attentive, eager to learn and organized when it comes to education – and teachers are rewarding them for that.  Young women are also enrolling in college and graduating with diplomas at higher rates than men.  In the graduating class of 2013, women earned the majority of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. The projection is the same for 2014 and beyond.

In recent years the employment market has also favored women in certain ways. In the last decade the male-dominated manufacturing sector, for example, has shed almost six million jobs, nearly one third of its total work force, and has taken in few young workers. Meantime, job openings in health, education, and services, sectors that tend to be led by female employees, have been on the rise.

Women are also prioritizing their professional lives more than men during their younger years. A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that 66 percent of young women ages 18 to 34 rate their career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59 percent of young men.

The older women get, though, the tougher it becomes to maintain that earnings momentum partly due to more moms taking time off to raise their families. Unfortunately, paternity leave, even when offered, is not something most working fathers are willing to take. Senior level  and executive positions, which pay more, are also still, by and large, going to men.  And of course, we have the issue of gender discrimination still at play in the workforce, contributing to the income disparity – and something the President is attempting to address with new laws.

What do you think about all of this? What are some other forces weighing down on a woman’s ability to earn as much as her male colleagues?

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