Idaho Gender Wage Gap Narrows Slightly

In 2013 working women in Idaho made major wage gains. Combined with wage erosion suffered by working men significantly, those gains closed the gap in their wages with men.

Moving to 87.6 percent of the median wage paid to men, Idaho women were closer to matching men’s paychecks in all but three other states.

However, the inequity still exists. Are there favorable trends that indicate change? Is this true globally? What can be done to end the inequity?

Idaho Men’s Median Wage Declines Between 2012 and 2013 Median Weekly Wage 2013

Four of the top seven states with the highest ratios of women’s wages to men’s along with four of the lowest-ranked seven states have higher educational attainment traits – Vermont, the District of Columbia, California and Maryland, which was seventh highest. All have high paying government, finance and corporate jobs. Idaho, Nevada and Arkansas all have educational attainment below the national average for bachelor’s degrees and higher. In the bottom tier – those with lower levels of bachelor degree attainment than Idaho – are Wyoming, Louisiana and West Virginia. Both lists validate that education pays off for women. In south central Idaho, women average 60 percent more by attaining a bachelor’s degree versus those working with a high school diploma as shown in the charts below. The same calculation for men holds true that education pays but not as much of a difference at 47 percent higher median wages.

Bachelor Degree Wages

HIgh School Diploma wagesSeveral large construction projects requiring skilled and better-paid specialty trades – overwhelmingly held by men – were underway in Idaho in 2012, generating an unsustainable spike in wages. The median wage for men dropped 5.6 percent from 2012 to 2013 while Nevada and Vermont experienced 3 percent or greater drops in men’s wages. Chobani wrapped up construction of its $450 million Greek yogurt plant at the end of 2012 in Twin Falls, retail construction wound down in Meridian and Idaho Falls saw some contracts completed at the Idaho National Laboratory in Butte County. Monthly wages in the professional, technical and scientific sector fell in Butte County by 12 percent for workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Wages for those with less education fell even more.

Between 2012 and 2013 construction wages in Twin Falls County dropped by nearly 11.7 percent for male workers with no more than high school diplomas while workers with bachelor’s degrees and higher saw wages drop by 15.7 percent.

States where the gap between median pay for men and women was largest have large natural resource industries, which are also dominated by men – fisheries and petroleum in Alaska, oil and gas industry in North Dakota, Wyoming and Louisiana and mining in Montana and West Virginia. In Utah, around 38 percent of women work part-time compared to the national average of 25 percent, according to the Census Bureau, and the women tend to work in lower paying industries, such as education and social work.

The labor force participation rate for women has been dropping since the 1999. In south central Idaho, the rate is even below the nation’s except in Blaine and Camas counties. That likely reflects the large agricultural component to the regional economy, where wives and daughters work on the farm or ranch but do not show up in payroll job counts. Another contributor would be the numerous small retail, food and beverage and service-related businesses operated by women in the resort communities of Blaine County.

Workforce Participation GraphVarious research articles indicate men are paid more than women in jobs with similar backgrounds but earlier in careers, the wage difference is not as great. The gap begins growing as couples have families – possibly the result of women taking maternity leave and then remaining home to raise their children, at best working part-time jobs that fit their family responsibilities. According to the Pew Research Center’s survey conducted in the fall of 2013, four in 10 mothers said they took significant time off the job in order to care for a family member while only half the fathers did. This creates gaps in work history, potential dulling of skills and concern among at least some employers that women will leave their jobs in mid-career so promotions are not as likely.

Career InterruptionsRepeated studies contend women are not as aggressive as men in pursuing their careers, according to a 2013 New York Times article. The disparity of wages between women and men in construction ranges in Idaho from 67 percent to 78 percent based on their education as provided by the Quarterly Workforce Indicators. The participation is estimated at an even smaller percentage — averaging 16 percent of the workforce in construction statewide is female. Education is the gateway to higher earnings potential particularly as a percentage of men’s wages.

More women are receiving advanced college degrees, and in some cases, they outnumber men in these academic programs. Hanna Rosin, in a 2010 article in The Atlantic Monthly, noted that “earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. For every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? “

She called it an unprecedented role reversal with “vast cultural consequences.”

Women Around the Globe

The inequity of wages between genders is universal. There is an even wider gap in developing nations because education for females is discouraged or excluded. Jobs requiring postsecondary education, while not quite nonexistent in village settings, are very limited. Socioeconomic conditions and political turmoil create chaos and forced relocations. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age were not enrolled in school in 2011 while 34 million girls of early secondary school age were not enrolled in school. This is a foundation for continuing the cycle of poverty.

In most countries – some European nations the exception – the power hierarchy is still dominated by men, which contributes to lower wages and fewer job opportunities for women.

Idaho and How Educational Attainment Impacts Women’s Wages

Education appears critical to closing the wage gap between women and men. Women with postsecondary education inch closer to men’s earnings than those who do not.

 Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500 ext 3639