Gender Pay Gap Report: Women Managers Still Lag Behind Men

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Women make up nearly half of America's workforce but the number of females in management positions and their corresponding pay still lags behind that of their male counterparts, according to a new government report.

The U.S.Government Accountability Office report, "Women in Management: Analysis of Female Managers' Representation, Characteristics, and Pay," released today found that little has changed for women in the workforce when it comes to compensation.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. D-N.Y., and chair of the Joint Economic Committee, commissioned the report and is holding a congressional hearing today to discuss its findings.

"What is most startling to me is how little progress we've made even though there's a bright spot in that more women are gaining education, we're closing the education gap but we're not closing the pay gap," Maloney said.

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Although there are more women represented across several industries, the number of women managers only increased by 1 percent -- from 39 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2007.

Women in non-managerial roles remained at 49 percent of the workforce.

The report analyzed 13 industries from construction to health care and looked at the pay gap between female and male managers. The factors used in determining the salary levels included age, hours worked and education.

Although the pay gap for female managers shrank by two cents from 2000 to 2007, female managers now only earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts compared to 79 cents in 2000.

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For the first time, the report also looked at working mothers in management.

Working manager moms earned 79 cents for every dollar in comparison to working manager dads -- unchanged since 2000.

Education and Consumer Spending

In addition to examining the pay gap between female and male managers, the GAO report found that more women are earning college and graduate degrees.

The number of working women aged 25 to 64 with college degrees nearly tripled during the years 1970 to 2008.

But the report also found that female managers on average in 2007 were younger, more likely to work part-time and had less education than male managers.

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Married women managers, on average, contribute 55 percent of their families' total wages -- which is below male managers who bring in 75 percent of household income.

However, women are major contributors to the economy and "they make major consumer decisions," according to Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the nonprofit center, Family and Work Institute.

"So the prejudices that exist are based on ideas that exist from another time another time, another kind of economy, another type of family life that don't exist today," she said.

Paycheck Fairness Act: Fair or Unnecessary?

While the GAO report highlighted some of the key areas where women lag behind in the workforce, a piece of legislation backed by President Barack Obama aims to help level the pay playing field by making it less complicated for women to sue employers for unequal pay.

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Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, the Paycheck Fairness Act would "lose loopholes that have allowed many employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay."

The act failed to pass in the Senate but is expected to be revisited in a future vote.

In an editorial in the Washington Post last week, Valerie Jarrett a senior advisor and assistant to President Obama for intergovernmental affairs, supported the act because she said it gives women "the tools they need to obtain equal pay for equal work."

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Jarrett wrote: "Pay equity is an issue of fairness not just for women but also for employers who comply with the law and pay employees what they deserve. The current system rewards businesses that embrace sex-based pay discrimination as a cost-cutting measure and encourages a race to the bottom. The will right this wrong by rewarding businesses that set high standards and value their employees rather than taking advantage of them."

However, not everyone agrees that the "fair pay" is actually "equal pay."

Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, wrote in an editorial in the New York Times last week that the "Paycheck Fairness bill would set women against men, empower trial lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market."

Sommers wrote that the act is flawed and "the problem is that while the debate proceeds, the bill assumes the answer: it would hold employers liable for the 'lingering effects of past discrimination' — 'pay disparities' that have been 'spread and perpetuated through commerce.' Under the bill, it's not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism."

ABC News' Claire Shipman, Sarah Kunin, Daniel Arnall and the Associated Press contributed to this report.