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Study Challenges Narrowing “Wage Gap”

August 15, 2008

Madison, WI - There may be less than meets the eye in reports that the gender salary gap is narrowing. A study examining Bureau of Labor Statistic numbers finds while the overall income of women workers rose over the past 30 years, it was partly because an increase in the number of women in higher-paying jobs brought up the average. Yet statistically, working women still make less than their male counterparts. Sharon Wisniewski with the Wisconsin Women's Network says she isn't surprised.

"We have always had capable women in the workforce--they've just been paid less. It doesn't give women a lot of comfort to know that we now make only 80 percent of what a man makes instead of the 60 percent or so that has been made in the past."

The study concludes that, contrary to the numbers, the economic status of most working women hasn't improved much over the past 30 years.

Wisniewskui wishes businesses would realize that they're short-changing themselves by using a two-tier wage scale.

"Businesses need to recognize that it's in their self-interest to pay women wages equal to what men are paid. They're competing for the best talent out there. If we as a country, as a state and our communities, are going to attract the best talent, they need to be paid. And women make up a lot of that talent pool."

In the 1970s, the labor market had an increased demand for skilled workers. Many of those jobs were filled by women, who were paid less than men--and they continue to be paid less.

Wisniewski believes it's critical that the wage disparity be corrected, because it can lead to a lifetime of economic inequality for women.

"The impact is that they're working hard, but not earning as much. Which means their children may suffer, they may suffer and, far into the future, when they're older, their incomes will also be lower."

The study is in the "Quarterly Journal of Economics." Information about Wisconsin Women's Network is available at

Jim Wishner/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - WI