Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Slowly but Can We Say "Surely"? Pay Equity & Segregation a Decade Later in West Virginia State Government

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Slowly but Can We Say "Surely"? Pay Equity & Segregation a Decade Later in West Virginia State Government

Article excerpt

In the twenty-first century, women continue to be paid at a substantially lower rate than men in the United States. A recent study of the status of women's pay in different states reveals some good and some bad news (Hartmann, Sorokina, & Williams, 2006). The good news is that the female-to-male-wage ratio improved from 69% in 1989 to 77% in 2006. The wage gap reduction may be linked to the increase in education levels of women in the job market. In addition, women are now more prevalent in better paying positions, namely, professional and managerial positions (35.5%). There was also some bad news. Full-time working women earned less than full-time working men in all states. Also, there was a great deal of variation in improvement in the female-to-male wage ratio from one state to another--1% in one state to 17% in another. If progress remains at the pace shown in this study, the U.S. will not see wage gender parity until the year 2056--nearly a century after employment discrimination against women was outlawed.

Wage disparities cannot be blamed solely on sex-based discrimination. These disparities are linked to issues of representation, family choices, and human capital characteristics. Indeed, research has repeatedly shown that it is difficult to separate market-wide wage disparities from issues of representation of women in the workforce (Alkadry & Tower, 2006; Tower & Alkadry, 2008). Women tend to be segregated in lower paying position levels (e.g., clerical positions), lower paying occupations (e.g., social work or education), and/or lower paying agencies (e.g., agencies that provide health, education or human services). It is also difficult to separate issues of wage disparities and representation from the human capital characteristics of women in the workforce. Particular human capital factors, such as experience and education, have historically been used as excuses for female segregation in lower paying positions or in certain fields and agencies. However, the gender gaps in education and experience are rapidly narrowing.

There are other developments that are likely to help remedy the under-representation of women and the gap between male and female earnings. By 2002, women had a pattern of uninterrupted work that paralleled men's (Women at Work, 2003). More specifically, women have stopped exiting the workforce between the ages of 25 and 34 and re-entering between the ages of 45-54. The gap in educational attainment between men and women is closing. The percentage of women and men 25 years and older who have at least a Bachelors degree are very close: 26.5% of women compared to 29.1% of men (Hartmann et al., 2006). These statistics refer to national trends; consequently, the numbers vary from state to state. For instance, the gap in educational attainment between men and women in West Virginia is 15.2% for women holding at least a Bachelor's degree compared to 15.6% for men (Hartmann et al., 2006). Although educational attainment for men and women in West Virginia is much lower than the national average, the educational attainment gap between men and women is much narrower.

Instead of focusing on the disparities in pay and representation, this article focuses on how these disparities are changing over time in West Virginia's state administration. The West Virginia economy was ranked 47th best for women--only better than Idaho, Louisiana and Arkansas (Hartmann et al., 2006). The literature review discusses the interplay between representation and equal pay--highlighting issues of pay disparities, agency, position level and occupational segregation. The literature review is followed with a discussion of the distinctiveness of the West Virginia state economy, demography, and public administration. It also highlights initiatives undertaken by the state to improve the representation and status of women in the public sector. After presenting the results, the article concludes with policy implications and recommendations for future research. …

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