...and a long slow pull on pay

Despite gains for women in the workplace, on the average women's salaries still lag markedly behind those of men. A new study in Massachusetts indicates that on balance women are paid only 55 percent of what men make; nationally the picture is similar - 61.7 percent.

Both statistics should be viewed with care: Neither isolates the impact of recent hirings, which are believed to be providing pay that is more nearly equitable. Many women, especially older women, have been in and out of the labor force over the years, with a result that their salaries are not as high as they would have been had employment been constant, as it generally has been for their male counterparts. Further, many older women in the labor force have had less schooling, including graduate education, than men, and subsequently hold lower-paying positions.

Even when these and similar points have been factored out, however, women on balance still earn less than men for doing the same job.

Nowadays this disparity does not necessarily arise out of overt discrimination, as before. It can result from more subtle attitudes and patterns.

Unfortunate anachronisms persist, such as the view that women are less serious about their work, or that a man's salary is a family's principal income and a woman's is auxiliary.

In upper-level positions, where a salary range usually exists, women are sometimes offered a salary at the lower end of the scale, whereas men are hired at the higher end. Over the years when raises are based on a percentage of salary, the initial inequity at the time of hiring is compounded.

The most recent US Bureau of Census figures, as analyzed by the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor, indicate that the disparity between women's and men's income exists in all broad categories of employment. Overall, it is the aforementioned 61.7 percent. For positions in the managerial and professional category, it is 63 percent; in technical, sales, and administrative support, 59 percent. Figures are similar in other categories.

Whereas these statistics apply only to the United States, the problem is worldwide.

The situation is changing for the better, as women gain more education, and as - through the pressure of court decisions and social changes - formerly all-male professions and higher managerial positions are opened to women.

But it is taking years for women to accede to these positions in substantial numbers; even to maintain this labored pace, more thinking needs to change.

Meanwhile, vignettes across the landscape presage the broad improvement that is to come. We know of one young couple, fresh from college, recently hired in early professional capacities by two separate companies. Their jobs are similar. To the penny, their pay is identical.

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