Progress in closing the yawning chasm between the earnings of men and
women appears to have stalled in Miami-Dade in the past couple of
years, even as economic conditions for women improved marginally.
Those findings come from a new report
commissioned by the county government and conducted by Florida
International University’s Metropolitan Center. The study, based on U.S.
Census Bureau data, found persistent and large gaps in the earnings of
men and women across virtually all occupations in the county, from
office and retail workers to engineers and lawyers.
In a perhaps even more worrisome conclusion, FIU’s researchers found that the gap in earnings between men and women grew since the university’s first study for the county on the subject two years ago. That initial study found that men earned 13 percent more than women in full-time jobs, an improvement over the 15-percent gap that existed in Miami-Dade in 2000.
The reason is related to overall wage stagnation, said the report’s
principal author, FIU researcher Maria Ilcheva. While women’s earnings
in Miami-Dade rose slightly in all occupations, men’s earnings grew a
bit more. That difference accounts for the widened gap, she said.
The Miami-Dade earnings gap is somewhat narrower
than the difference in earnings between men and women across the United
States. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported
that nationally women make 82 percent of what men do, a figure its
researchers said has remained relatively stable for 15 years.
But a closer look at the local gap by FIU raises
some troubling comparisons. The gender gap is even higher in
professional occupations, as much as 47 percent in the legal field, and
has in some cases grown over recent years, the report found.
Ilcheva stressed she’s not ready to say overall
progress on closing the gender pay gap has stopped or is headed in
reverse in Miami-Dade. She said such a broad conclusion would require
more than two years of data. The report is based on 2016 Census Bureau
data, the latest available at the time of its drafting, Ilcheva said.
Her research team has now started analyzing 2017
Census Bureau data in preparation for a third report later this year
that may clarify the direction of the trend, Ilcheva said.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who
sponsored the legislation funding the studies, said the persisting gaps
underscore the need to understand the trend and shape an appropriate
“I don’t think we can rest on any laurels,” she
said. “What’s important is shining a light on the fact that this gap
The new report does highlight some positive trends, but also outlines the difficulties involved in figuring out the reasons for the persisting lag and coming up with solutions.
Women continue catching up to men in educational
attainment. Miami-Dade women are now slightly outpacing men in
graduating from college, the report notes. Just over 28 percent of women
in the county now have bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to 27.6
percent of men. Nationwide, one-third of U.S. adults had a bachelor’s
degree or higher in 2016, according to the Census Bureau.
More young women, meanwhile, are choosing to
study business, science and engineering, fields with higher pay scales
than the careers in education, social and health assistance and the arts
that most women with college degrees in Miami-Dade have elected in the
past. The report says that of women with college degrees, 37.5 percent
have degrees in science, engineering and related fields. That represents
a significant increase, according to a chart in the report, though it
does not specify how much. The percentage of female college graduates
with degrees in business and the arts and humanities was flat compared
to previous years.
But both those positives come with large caveats.
Most of Miami-Dade’s women with college degrees still work in the
lower-paying arts, education and humanities fields, which helps explain a
portion of the persisting earnings gap, the report says.
And the higher the career pay scale, the report
found, the bigger the gender earnings gap is. The report suggests the
gaps are especially acute in some elite professional jobs in Miami-Dade.
In law, women earn a median of $61,782, a full 47 percent less than
men. In professional, scientific and management services, the gap was 27
percent, or a median of $33,038 for women and $45,500 for men.
That suggests that closing the educational gap by
itself won’t solve the problem, and that continuing bias by employers
may help explain the earnings gap’s stubborn persistence, Ilcheva said
in an interview.
“Yes, there is a generational change that’s
occurring,” Ilcheva said, referring to the growing interest among women
in pursuing business and so-called STEM fields. “I don’t want to throw a
bucket of cold water on that. But if you look at the occupations and
earnings for business and engineering, there is still a large gap.”
In 2016, the most recent year for which data was
available, women with bachelor’s degrees made 82 cents for every dollar
earned by men with college degrees in Miami-Dade. The median for women
was $51,908, compared with $76,662 for men. That’s a 32-percent gap, up
from 27 percent in 2010, the report says.
The largest gap was in management, business,
science and the arts, where men made 25.8 percent more than women. The
smallest gap was in sales and office work, where men made 14.6 percent
The report pointedly avoids an explanation for
the persisting gaps, noting that a lack of data on causes makes it hard
to develop an explanation.
Some critics of efforts to address the earnings
gap argue that it merely reflects choices by women to take
less-demanding jobs, work fewer hours or eschew overtime or, in the case
of professional jobs, to favor a “mommy track” that allows time off for
child-rearing but brings lower compensation.
Ilcheva said an equally valid view may be that
women confront a “motherhood penalty” imposed by employers who elect to
pay them less to begin with, on the assumption they will be taking time
off to have children or want to spend more time at home.
Other contributing factors for the overall
earnings gap noted in the report include the fact that higher rates of
women than men don’t work, and that most working women in Miami-Dade
have part-time jobs.
“The only agreement that exists is that there isn’t a single reason for the gap,” Ilcheva said.
The Miami-Dade County Commission launched an
effort to study the earnings gap issue locally in 2015, under an
ordinance sponsored by Levine Cava. The reports go to the Miami-Dade
Commisson for Women to develop recommendations to address it.
So far, that’s resulted in resolutions urging
county agencies to do more to encourage and support STEM education and
careers for young women and efforts to ensure gender equity in county
contracting, among other initiatives.
The county has focused its efforts on its own
workforce and vendors because the state bars it from passing legislation
regulating wages, Levine Cava said. She noted the report found some
success in lowering a longstanding salary gap between male and female
county employees, from 14 percent in 2016 to 11.3 in 2018. One
successful tactic has been making it easier for employees to highlight
advanced degrees, which trigger higher pay.
When it comes to the private sector, Levine Cava
said, she would like to see employers make formal, voluntary commitments
to pay equity among men and women and monitor those efforts to ensure
Ilcheva said the newest report suggests even more must be done to address persisting or even growing earnings gaps.
When Congress passed the Equal Pay Act
prohibiting wage discrimination more than 50 years ago, she noted, the
earnings gap was three times as large. At the gradual rate the
Miami-Dade gender earnings gap had been narrowing as of two years ago,
she noted, it would have taken women 30 years to catch up to men.
The question now, she said, is whether that will take even longer if that already slow progress is stalling.
“Obviously the gap has closed, but the fact that it still persists speaks to that it’s not just a matter of the occupation women choose, but that it needs a more conscious effort by employers and others to close that gap,” Ilcheva said.
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