Division of Labor and Industry


Report to the Maryland State Commission on Equal Pay - Gender-Based Wage Disparities - Appendix B - Report of the Equal Pay Commission



Wage disparity between men and women has been a controversial topic on the minds of various interest groups, politicians, and individuals for several decades. There are several theories about why such disparities exist. According to a study conducted by the United States General Accounting Office, without adjusting for factors that affect wages, women earned 44% less than men during the period of the 1983-2000 (GAO, 44). However, once those factors were incorporated into the equation, the gap dropped to 21%. In recent years the gap is decreasing and, in Maryland, it is substantially less than in most other states. Among the significant factors were work patterns, choice of industry, choice of occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure. In consulting other similar studies and sources, the two major factors seemingly affecting wages are the differences in industries and occupations females and males choose, as well as the work patterns they have at those jobs (GAO, 10).

Differences in Types of Jobs and Industries

While the United States has come a long way since the time when most women were housewives, gender roles are still clearly visible within the job market as women and men are often concentrated into occupations and job titles that they do not share with the opposite sex. So called "women's jobs" and "men's jobs" still exist within the market, and typically those traditionally held by men tend to pay more than those traditionally held by women. In "Still a Man's Labor Market," Rose and Hartman look at the job market on a three-tier schema of elite, good, and less-skilled jobs. They find that in the elite tier, women are concentrated in teaching and nursing, while men are business executives, scientists, doctors, and lawyers. In the middle tier jobs, women are secretaries while men are blue collar workers, and in the lower tier, women are sales clerks while men work in factory jobs. Within each of the six gender-tier categories, at least 75% of the workers are of one gender, and in each tier women's jobs pay significantly less than those of their male counterparts (Rose, iv).

These facts beg the question why men and women choose such different professions and why those chosen by women pay less. First, differences in career choices can be seen between men and women as far back as to the college experience. Men more often choose majors that are hard sciences, while women choose those involving humanities and education. In 2000, women earned only 36% of all physical science degrees, 27% of all degrees in computer and information sciences, and a mere 17% in engineering (BPWF, 6). Whether the differences in the choices made by men and women are a result of conforming to societal norms or are free choices can't be definitively concluded, but they exist.

Still, the question of why professions typically chosen by women pay less, remains. Rose and Hartman's "Still a Man's Labor Market" suggests that jobs chosen by men within each tier of the labor force are typically more skilled or onerous than those chosen by women. The professions of doctor (typically chosen by men) and nurse (typically chosen by women), while both in the top tiers of the job market for their gender, require different levels of education, different number of work hours, and provide different opportunities for leave. For all three factors, nurses have an easier path - their training requires many less years of schooling, the job allows for a much less demanding, more flexible and more consistent work schedule, as well as more opportunity for leave time (Rose, iv). This scenario leaves one wondering, "do certain jobs pay less because predominantly women work there, or do women choose jobs that are less demanding, and as a result, pay less?"

Work Patterns

The other major factor affecting earning is work patterns including the number of hours worked per year, years of experience in the job force, and the amount of leave taken. The GAO study found that women on average have fewer years of work experience than men (men have 16 years of experience, while women have 12), work fewer hours per year (men work 2147, while women work 1675 - a difference of 472 hours per year), are less likely to work a full-time schedule, and leave the labor force for longer periods of time than men (GAO, 11-12). Taking these differences into consideration, may partially explain why women earn less than men, since they work fewer hours than men.

Family Matters - Marriage and Children

But why do these differences in work patterns exist between men and women? According to Furchtgott-Roth and Stolba in "Women's Figures," the difference seen in the work patterns of men and women can be explained by the personal choices made outside of work by the two genders. According to them, marriage and children have a major effect on women's earnings (Furchtgott-Roth, 12). The fifteen- year longitudinal study conducted by the IWPR and summarized in "Still a Man's Labor Market" found that women who spent most of the period of the study married earned less because they had more years out of the labor force; whereas, women who were only married for a few years spent more time in the work force. Along the same lines, women who had children present for ten to fifteen years during the study period had the lowest earnings, while women who had children for two years or less earned nearly $9000 more per working year on average. The study showed that the opposite was true for men; those with children present in the house for a longer period of time earned more money (Rose, 25-27). Professor Jane Waldfogel, conducted a similar study in 1991, comparing adjusted wage gap between men and women with the same experience and education for mothers and women without children. Like the findings of IWPR, her research showed that women without children made 95% of men's wages, all other factors accounted for, while mothers made 75% of men's wages (Furchtgott-Roth, 15).

Why would marriage or children have an effect on wages? Eighty percent of women in the U.S. bear children at some point in their lives (Furchtgott-Roth, 12). The commitment level involved in having and raising a child has a great effect on the number of hours women work and the amount of leave time they take. Most pregnant women take time off towards the end of their pregnancy to have a baby. In the best scenario possible, a woman takes off a week, in a typical situation a few months, but in a situation involving health complications for her or the baby, a woman may need to take off as long as a year or more. The research conducted by the IWPR showed that 52% of women have at least one complete calendar year without any earnings in comparison to only 16% of men. A career interruption of one year or more can have a serious impact on one's career and earnings regardless of whether it's a man or a woman (Rose, iii).

After bearing a child, the demands of motherhood lead women to make other choices that affect their careers. According to "Women's Figures," in order to accommodate familial needs, women tend to choose occupations where job flexibility is high, salaries are lower, and job skills deteriorate at a slower rate than others ((Furchtgott-Roth, 13). In research conducted by the Maryland Federation of Business and Professional Women, results showed that 77.85% of working women reported that flexible work schedules are of moderate or major importance to them, while half of those women reported that having opportunities to work part-time is of moderate or major importance to them (BPWF, 5). To sum up, women in many professions are making decisions to balance work and family priorities and those decisions result in fewer women reaching the top of their fields.

The fact that women work fewer hours per year, are less likely to work a full-time schedule, and leave the labor force for longer periods of time than men, doesn't only affect the amount of money they make but affects the perception of their value in the work force. For example, research indicates that arrangements such as part-time work, leave, and telecommuting reduce workers "face time"- the amount of time spent in the work place. Some employers use face time as an indicator of workers productivity and those who lack face time may experience negative career effects. Moreover, the fact that statistically women use such arrangements more frequently than men makes them seem less available, less committed and, thus, less valuable (GAO, 61).

Causes of Existing Discrimination

Traditionally playing the role of homemakers, women in the labor force carry a stereotype of being less career-driven than men because they traditionally tend to make family their top priority. Many employers are interested in hiring those people who are willing to make their job their number one priority. This leads to discrimination when employers decide who to hire, what to pay an employee, and who to promote (GAO 61-62). Moreover, fearing that they may leave their jobs for family responsibilities, employers who hire women tend to be less willing to train them. This further promotes the wage gap, because women aren't extended the 
training opportunities that are often crucial in working one's way to the top of the field (Blau, 6-7). Moreover, families perpetuate the wage disparity when they decide to let mothers stay home with the children in place of hiring caretakers because a worker's potential earnings drop in proportion to time taken out of the labor force.

Conclusion - Unaccounted Disparity

In the GAO report, once measurable factors such as choice of industry, choice of occupation, and work patterns were added into the equation, the 44% difference between the earnings of men and women dropped to 21% (GAO, 29). Other studies have found approximately the same results. So, how can the other 21% be explained? Simply, not all factors that could possibly affect wage disparity are measurable. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to come up with every factor that could possibly affect wages (GAO, 19-20). One factor rarely mentioned but that has been found by the Council of Economic Advisers to contribute to wage disparities is labor unions. Union membership boosts wages of union members relative to non-union members by 10 to 20 percent and, traditionally, many more men have been members of unions than women (CEA, 7). Certainly, other factors like this may exist that have yet to be studied and tested. Then, of course, there is one other possibility, flat out discrimination ("just because you are a woman I will pay you less"). However, measuring that possibility by examining statistical aggregates either nationally or in a particular state is complicated because of the number of variables involved.


Blau, Francine D., and Lawrence M. Kahn. "Gender Differences in Pay." National Bureau of Economic Research. June 2000.

Business and Professional Women Foundation. "101 Facts on the Status of Workingwomen." October 2004.

Furchtgott-Roth, Diana, and Christine Stolba. "Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America." Washington: American Enterprise Institute Press, 1999.

Rose, Stephen J., and Heidi I. Hartmann. "Still a Man's Labor Market: The Long-Term Earnings Gap." Institute for Women's Policy Research. 2004.

The Council of Economic Advisors. "Explaining Trends in the Gender Wage Gap." Washington, D.C.: The Council of Economic Advisors, 1998.

U.S. General Accounting Office. "Women's Earnings: Work Patterns Partially Explain Difference between Men's and Women's Earnings." Washington, DC. October 2003.

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