Gender Pay Gap in the Pittsburgh Region Exceeds National Average, Pitt Study Finds

Issue Date: 
March 3, 2008

The wages for an average working woman in Pittsburgh trail those of her local male counterpart—and of her female colleagues in most of the nation’s large economic regions, according to a study from the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) at the University of Pittsburgh.

The study cites as reasons a listless economy and the legacy of heavy industry in the Pittsburgh region. The divergence could pose yet another obstacle to attracting businesses and talented employees to the area, but the situation can be repaired through company policies and promoting the hiring of women in underrepresented fields, the researchers said.

Sabina Deitrick, codirector of UCSUR’s Urban and Regional Analysis Program, and UCSUR regional economist Christopher Briem surveyed census data on full-time, year-round workers. They found that the difference in pay between men and women in the Pittsburgh region exceeds the United States’ average gender-wage disparity across most industries and occupations. This is in spite of the fact that women make up nearly half of the area’s workforce (48 percent) and that local men in the occupations surveyed earn more than the national average for men in the same positions. Deitrick and Briem accounted for education, age, marital status, work experience, children, and other factors that influence earnings, yet the imbalance by gender remained.

“The implications affect everyone, in that attracting and retaining the best workers is important for regional growth,” Deitrick said. “Promoting fair pay isn’t just an equity issue anymore, it influences the bottom line for local businesses and the economy. Nonetheless, there remains the feature of gender discrimination in the workplace and its lingering effects on earnings.”

Using 2007 census data, the most recent available, the study found that local women in commercial management earned just 58.3 percent of what local men in private-sector management positions earned and only 89.5 percent of the national median earnings for women in management. Women in management positions in the not-for-profit sector in Pittsburgh fared slightly better, earning 64.3 percent of the pay for men. Men in both for- and not-for-profit management positions in Pittsburgh, however, earned more than men nationally with 109.1 and 103.7 percent of average earnings, respectively. In the public sector, the earnings gap between male and female managers was narrower than the commercial and nonprofit sectors in both Pittsburgh and the nation. (A notable exception to the local wage gap is the region’s women in farming, who, in 2000, earned substantially more than women farmers nationally and slightly more than men in farming regionally.)

Women in the region also remain largely underrepresented in certain jobs. Deitrick and Briem found that industries and occupations in the Pittsburgh area are more segregated by gender than are those in both the nation on average and most of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. Pittsburgh ranks 71st out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas for gender integration in the workplace. The region ranks 80th for gender integration in light and heavy industry. San Francisco is the most integrated on both indices.

Deitrick and Briem attribute this disparity primarily to the “legacy effect” of Pittsburgh’s heavy industry. Women in Pittsburgh were less likely to enter and remain in the labor force than women in other urban areas. Thus, men dominated Pittsburgh’s labor force for a lot longer than in other regions. As late as 1980, women made up less than 40 percent of all employed workers.

With the collapse of the region’s heavy-industrial economy, women streamed into the workforce. By the end of the 1990s, labor force participation for women in Pittsburgh had caught up with the rest of the country, but that late surge in women entering the local workforce appears to be one factor in women’s lagging earnings.

“The emergence of women into the regional job market was among the most major and important changes to the regional economy following the loss of heavy industry,” Briem said. “The market is now open to the other half of the population, but changing the industrial structure and culture has not come easily to Pittsburgh. Only in the last decade has the physical presence of women in the labor force caught up with the nation. Now, we need to play catch-up on pay equity.”

The sluggish local economy and idle population growth also hinder wage equity in the Pittsburgh region. Deitrick and Briem found a narrower discrepancy in such booming areas as San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and San Diego. The wage gap also tends to be smaller in the government sector. Thus Washington, D.C., and state-capital regions show more equitable wages for women and employ more highly educated women than non-capital cities such as Pittsburgh.

At individual levels, policies and programs can address some of these issues, Deitrick and Briem said. Promoting careers in fields in which women are underrepresented—such as technology and science—also can help address gender segregation in occupations and industries. Individual firms and institutions can engage in their own organizational audits to examine and address gender pay issues, they added.