September 3, 2010

By Stephen Groves


Women in Virginia are making 81 percent of what their male counter-parts make per hour, sending the Commonwealth to near the top of the list of states for the gender pay gap, says a new report. But the reasons remain unclear.

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a research non-profit that supports progressive issues, on Thursday released a report based on Census Bureau figures detailing the incomes and jobs in which men make more than women. In 2008, the median income for men was $16,000 more than what women made, making the gap in Virginia the 15th largest in the nation. The gap of $3.59 for median hourly wage, another measure of earnings, is 14th highest on the list.

The report claims that the incomes of men and women have steadily grown closer to each other across the nation and in the Southeast region since the early 2000s, but this trend does not seem to be picking up in Virginia. Michael Cassidy, president of the Commonwealth Institute, also pointed out that the gap is even greater among people with a bachelors or advanced degree. In Virginia, women with advanced degrees make 54 cents for every dollar earned by men with advanced degrees.

“We like to think of Virginia as having a modern, advanced economy where your gender doesn’t affect your paycheck, but this report shows that men are still earning more than similarly-educated women and that the difference exists across all occupations and industries,” Cassidy said.

He encouraged further action by identifying the issues that lead to women making less than men. The report, titled “Same work, less pay,” suggests this is based on gender discrimination.

But others, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative non-profit, say there are many factors that go into the gender pay gap.

“We need to be careful when we look at statistics like this and blame it on sexism,” said Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s forum.”

She said that pay gaps result from factors like how much someone decides to work, or what jobs they take. Someone might work a job that is more difficult, has inconvenient or longer hours, but be rewarded for it with higher pay.

“Someone who works continuously, whether it is a man or woman, gets more experience, gets more promotions, and gets paid more,” Lukas said. And women may gravitate to jobs that allow greater flexibility to raise a family, she suggested.

Lukas also cited a study recently published in Time magazine that analyzed 2,000 communities and found that in 147 of 150 of the biggest U.S. cities, unmarried, childless women under 30 actually make 8 percent more than males in that category. James Chung of Reach Advisors, who has spent more than a year analyzing data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, compiled the figures. But the cities where this trend does not ring true are based on traditionally male-dominated industries, such as technology software development or military-technology contracting. Tech jobs and military contracting are huge drivers of the Virginia economy, which could explain some of the gender pay gap, Lukas said.

But this is a complicated subject with factors like economics, gender, and culture, which can make it hard to measure accurately.

As Virginia Moran of the University of Virginia Women’s Center acknowledged, “There are lots of conflicting reports on this subject.”