April 13, 2012 at 7:49 AM ET
The difference between a man's paycheck and a woman's paycheck may have something to do with where people live.
A new analysis from the National Women’s Law Center finds that the pay gap between men and women varies widely among the states.
Looking at full-time, year-round wages, the gap is smallest in Washington, D.C., where women earn 91 cents for every dollar men earn, and widest in Wyoming, where women earning just 64 cents for every dollar men earn.
Vermont and California also boasted small wage gaps between men and women, while Louisiana and Utah were among those with the largest wage gaps.
Demographic and economic factors help explain some of the disparity.
Many people who live in Washington work for the federal government, where wage gaps tend to be smaller than in private industry, said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president of education and employment for the National Women’s Law Center.
People who live in the nation's capital also may be younger, she added, and the wage gap is smaller among younger workers.
By contrast, in Wyoming there may be more jobs in traditionally male-dominated industries such as coal mining. The state is also largely rural and much more sparsely populated.
But Graves argues that such factors don’t account for the entire gap.
“There’s always a portion that cannot be explained away,” she said.
Economist Mike Montgomery with IHS Global Insight said demographic differences in various states could have a lot to do with the wage gap. States with a homogeneous labor market – where men and women do similar jobs – could have a much narrower gap because opportunities are more equal.
The overall gap between men’s and women’s median earnings has improved as more women have entered the labor market, but a disparity remains.
That’s partly because men and women choose different career paths, but pay gaps persist even for people in the same jobs.
The median weekly income for female physicians and surgeons is just 71 percent of what men take home, for example. Even in traditionally female-dominated professions, such as nursing and teaching, women generally take home less than men each week, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The National Women’s Law Center used the most recent 2010 data from the American Community Survey, which is conducted by the Census Bureau, to compile its analysis. Its findings are close to what the Census Bureau itself found when it did a similar analysis a couple of years ago.
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