Arizona on Track to Close Gender Pay Gap -- in 29 Years

Arizona could be one of the first states in the nation to close the gender pay gap, according to a new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Women in the United States are paid about 78 cents on the dollar compared with men, which is about 16 cents better than the 1960s. If progress continues at this rate, nationally, men and women will not earn equal wages until the year 2058.

By IWPR's estimates, however, Arizona could get there more than a decade sooner -- by 2044. Only Maryland, California, and Florida are predicted to do better.

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Arizona women are expected to catch up more quickly, in part, because wages are already more equitable, said Jessica Milli, senior research associate at IWPR. Women make about 82 cents to a man's dollar in Arizona. The gap also may be easier to close because both men and women in Arizona make less money than average.

But while having a lower wage gap "is good," Milli told New Times. "It obscures other problems."

Although women across the country are now more likely to attend and complete college, that isn't translating into better outcomes, she said. The disparity between men's and women's wages grows as educational attainment increases. So, full-time women workers with bachelor's degrees earn about as much money as men with associates degrees.

In Arizona, the effect is particularly pronounced. Women with bachelor's degrees make just 67 cents on the dollar compared to men. The gap for educated women is worse than all but four other states.

Some of the disparity can be explained by examining women's career choices, Milli said. Men are more than twice as likely as women to work in the high-paying science, technology, engineering, and math sectors, while women are more likely to work in public- service occupations, including healthcare and education.

More than 40 percent of Arizona women work in education, healthcare, or other service-oriented jobs, according to IWPR. About 13 percent work in business and finance. Less than 5 percent work in STEM fields.

"Back in the day, teaching might have been one of the only occupations open to women," she said. "That has sort of set the stage. So, now, even though we have broader opportunities, women aren't taking them. That could be due to preference. It could be due to lack of role models. It could be due to lack of encouragement to go into male-dominated fields."

Culturally, women are also still expected to carry the majority of the burden of childrearing, she said, which may negatively affect their earning potential. For example, women are 10 times more likely than men to skip work to stay home with sick children, according to recent study from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. A majority of such women reported taking unpaid leave.

Just 54 percent of Arizona women work, which is less than 47 other states.

"Yeah, the wage gap largely goes away when we account for all the differences in characteristics between men and women," Milli said. "But the fact that there are differences in characteristics between men and women is problematic."

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