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Male-female pay gap wider in Western Pennsylvania, study finds

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By Brian Bowling and Rachel Weaver
Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Female workers in Western Pennsylvania make, on average, 70 cents for every $1 made by men, according to an analysis of the latest Census Bureau data.

They fared worse than women statewide and nationally, who averaged 72 cents for each dollar paid to men.

Behind those simple statistics, however, is a complex situation, variables of which are difficult to capture and are frequently at odds with personal experience. The figures show, for example, female veterinarians make about 68 cents for every $1 paid to their male colleagues, but Dr. Jonna Swanson doesn't see that wage gap.

“In Pittsburgh, veterinarians are paid very well,” she said. “There's a shortage in general, and that seems to be making (salaries) a little higher.”

Swanson, 37, of Dormont, who has been a veterinarian since 2006, said women dominate her field. She works for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, where four of the six veterinarians are women. Any wage gap could be caused by women working part time, she said.

“It is a profession where you can be a woman and make a decent living working part time,” she said.

The Tribune-Review analysis is based on the 2011 American Community Survey. It includes all who told the Census Bureau they had worked at least 35 hours a week for 50 weeks in 2011 and anyone who reported wages of at least $12,688, the equivalent of working 35 hours for 50 weeks at $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage. That would include high-wage earners working part time.

The analysis covered Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center, said the relatively small sample size, about one in 40 households, produces questionable results when applied to an area as small as Western Pennsylvania.

Many estimates for occupations and industries are based on responses by one person, so the analysis produces oddities such as only women working as air traffic controllers or only men working as hotel desk clerks.

The analysis showed women had higher average wages than men in about 20 percent of industries and 30 percent of occupations.

Goss Graves said national studies have found only one occupation — personal care and service workers — in which women make more than men. They haven't found any industry in which women make more, she said.

“It could be there's something really different about Pittsburgh, about the types of industries,” she said. “Or it could be the sample size. It's hard to know.”

The Trib analysis showed the bulk of women real estate agents make about $1.20 for every $1 earned by their male counterparts. That analysis eliminates two male agents claiming six-figure incomes.

Paula Hinston, a real estate agent with Howard Hanna's Franklin Park office, said either gender can offer a good agent, but women often have the edge because of their “innate sense of domesticity” and a tendency to be more detail oriented.

“Women just love houses,” said Hinston, 54, of Bradford Woods. “We have a different take on selling. People have an emotional attachment to their homes. Many are buying because they're starting a family or raising a family. Women are more emotional than men. It has a profound effect on us as Realtors.”

Of the 35 agents in her office, only six are men, she said.

National studies have consistently found women are paid less than men in comparable jobs. One of the most recent, by the American Association of University Women, found that among people hired in their first year after college, women in 2009 were paid 82 cents for every $1 paid to men.

AAUW research director Catherine Hill said differences in college majors, the industries the graduates entered, the jobs they took and hours they worked explained about 11 cents of the 18-cent gap, but the study still left the conclusion that a woman graduate entering the same job in the same industry as a man makes less money.

Employers “aren't necessarily being evil people who are discriminating,” she said. “That may be happening, but I think we're mainly talking about people with biases that they don't realize.”

Brian Bowling and Rachel Weaver are staff writers for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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