Women's Earnings Equaled 80.2 Percent of Men's in 2009

 The pay gap between women and men who work full time narrowed slightly in 2009, as median weekly earnings of women equaled 80.2 percent of those of men, up from 79.9 percent the prior year, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics said June 30.

After trending upward during the 1980s and 1990s—from 62 percent in 1979—the female-to-male earnings ratio peaked at approximately 81 percent in 2005 and 2006.

The annual average earnings figures provide comparisons among demographic groups "on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be significant in explaining earnings differences," BLS noted.

2010 Male-Female Pay Gap

For example, one factor contributing to women's lower earnings ratio is that men tend to work more hours weekly. Comparing only full-time employees who usually worked 40 hours per week—who account for a large majority of both male and female workers—women earned 86 percent as much as men in 2009.

Also, men disproportionately are employed in higher-paid occupations, such as construction, production, and transportation jobs, while women "are far more concentrated in administrative support jobs," BLS said.

Even in professional and related occupations, where women outnumber men by more than 2-1, they are not as well represented as men in higher-paying job groups, such as computer and engineering fields. In 2009, only 9 percent of all female professionals worked in those fields, compared with 43 percent of male professionals.

Women in professional or related occupations were more likely than men to work in education and health care occupations (69 percent versus 30 percent), which generally pay less.

Among all workers, both full-time and part-time, who were paid by the hour, the pay gap was narrower, with women's median usual weekly earnings equaling 86 percent of those of men.

Among full-time wage and salary workers last year, median usual weekly earnings increased more among women than men (3 percent versus 2.6 percent), reversing the 2008 pattern, when earnings growth was higher for men (4.2 percent versus 3.9 percent).

The typical female full-time worker usually earned $657 per week on average in 2009, a gain of $19 from $638 per week the previous year, while median usual weekly earnings of their male counterparts rose by $21, to $819 from $798 in 2008, BLS reported.

By racial and ethnic group among full-time workers ages 16 and older, women's earnings as a share of men's were highest for blacks (93.7 percent), followed by Hispanics (89.5 percent) and Asians (81.8 percent), while the ratio was lowest for whites (79.2 percent).

The earnings data are compiled from the monthly current population survey of 60,000 households.