How Women Can Earn More Despite the Widening Wage Gap

Gender Wage Gap

Earlier this month we talked about new “breadwinner moms” – a group made up of one part well-off, married mothers and one part single moms hovering just slightly over the poverty threshold. But how are women in general fairing in terms of wages as compared to their male counterparts? Let’s take a look at the data to find out.

According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2012 full-time working women earned 80.9% of what men earned in terms of weekly pay. This is actually a decrease from the previous year: in 2011 women earned 82.2% of what men earned in weekly pay.

This data is even more impactful when we look at the raw numbers. In 2012, women working full time earned an average of $691. Meanwhile, men earned $163 more with an average of $854 in weekly earnings.

This gap actually widens as careers progress. A separate report from the American Association of University Women shows that one year after college, on average women were paid 82% of what their male counterparts earned. Ten years after graduation, that pay gap widens significantly and women are paid just 69% of what men are paid.

Location also has profound effect on women’s earning potential. According to state-by-state data from the AAUW, the earnings gap is lowest in Washington D.C., with men earning an average annual salary of $66,760 versus women’s $60,332 (90% of what men earn). Compare that to Wyoming, where women earn just 67% of what men do.

Depending on who you ask, there are a number of explanations for this persistent gender-based wage gap. Some say it has to do with the majors women choose in college; humanities and education majors tend to make less than those who enter male-dominated fields such as business or engineering. Others say it has to do with taking time off work to raise children. Finally, some argue that this is a policy issue, and that more should be done from the federal level to ensure employers are paying fair wages regardless of gender.

Women’s individual decisions alone won’t eliminate the pay gap, but certain life decisions can increase a woman’s earning potential. Here are few of the strategies recommended by the American Association of University Women.

College major matters.

College major has a huge effect on your lifelong earning potential. Fields of study such as engineering, healthcare and computer science traditionally lead to higher paying jobs. These are traditionally male-dominated occupations, while those popular among women (education and social sciences) tend to result in lower-paying careers. Decisions about college major should be carefully considered with future pay scale in mind.

Salary negotiation skills are important.

Regardless of which field you end up in, negotiation skills are essential. To reach your full earning potential, come prepared to interviews or annual reviews knowing what your skills are worth, and be willing to confidently ask for a specific amount.

Look for union jobs.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, female union members who worked full time in 2011 earned $879 per week, versus just $653 for non-union members. Whether college-educated or not, union membership can make a significant impact on a woman’s earning trajectory.

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