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Working moms still face pay, career inequities

Wednesday, August 4, 2010  
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Women and men with similar backgrounds -- including age, education and work experience — are more likely to be treated equally than in the past, but add children to the mix and significant workplace inequities remain, according to a recent report by the New York Times.

While the pay gap between men and women with similar backgrounds has shrunk to a few percentage points, men still dominate the ranks of management in the nation's largest companies, and overall, full-time female workers make significantly less -- a whopping 23 percent less on average -- than full-time male workers.

Among the factors leading to this discrepancy: Many more women take time off from work, work part time at some point and are less able to arrive at the office early or stay late, the New York Times noted, adding women pay a steep price for taking time away from work, in both pay and promotions.

"American feminists made a conscious choice to emphasize equal rights and equal opportunities, but not to talk about policies that would address family responsibilities," Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia University professor who studies families and work, told the newspaper.

As the feminist movement has successfully fought for antidiscrimination laws requiring men and women to be treated equally, outright sexism is no longer the main challenge to gender equality, Waldfogel said; it's pursuing an untraditional career path .

"Women do almost as well as men today,” Waldfogel told the newspaper, "as long as they don't have children.”

A recent University of Chicago study of business school graduates found in the early years after graduating, men and women had "nearly identical labor incomes and weekly hours worked.” Men and women also paid a similar price for taking off or working part time. Women, however, were much more likely to do both, the New York Times reported.

The result: 15 years after graduation, men were making about 75 percent more than the women in the study. One subgroup of women -- those with no children who did not take time off -- has careers that resembled those of men.

Acknowledging that part-time work, flexible schedules and long leaves damage careers, a growing number of mothers have dropped out of the labor force, the newspaper reported. Lacking attractive part-time job options, more are becoming stay-at-home moms.

Last year, 40.2 percent of married women with children under three years old had no outside jobs, up from 38.6 percent in 1998, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which noted the increase "occurred across all educational levels and, for most groups, by about the same magnitude.” By contrast, women without children at home have continued to join the work force in growing numbers.

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