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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 September 2007, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
US cities buck gender pay trends
BY Hani Shawwa
BBC News, New York

For Angela Arcaro-Vinas, moving to New York three years ago was the best and most logical step in her climb up the career ladder.

Angela Arcaro-Vinas
Angela's move to New York seems to be paying off

She was attracted from her hometown of Miami by the bright lights of a bigger city and the hope of better pay and business prospects.

"I wanted a change in my life at that time and I thought New York represented fresh and new areas of career growth," she says. "There seemed to be a diverse working world there and I hoped different avenues would open up for me."

Now living in a trendy part of Manhattan, the 27-year-old admits she has not done too bad for herself.

"It is not exactly like Sex and the City," she says," but I earn in the $50,000 range. I work from home, travel a lot and l love my neighbourhood."

Reversing the rule

Although she may not realise it, Angela Arcaro-Vinas represents a wave of young women in America who are turning the tables on men when it comes to the issue of pay inequality.

Traditionally, gender experts believe women get a tough deal in the US and face a variety of discrimination in the workplace - sometimes deliberate and unconscious.

Hard figures are difficult to come by, but an oft-quoted statistic is that women get paid 75 cents for every dollar their male counterpart earns - despite comprising nearly half the country's paid labour force and earning almost $2 trillion of income in 2001.

One significant contributor to pay inequality is when a woman goes on leave either to give birth or raise her child
Michael Philip Fisher, Hunter College

At last, though, this gender pay imbalance could be waning in the world's largest economy, a recent study suggests.

Dr Andrew Beveridge, of New York's Queens College, analysed US census data from 2005 - and found that women between the ages of 21 and 30 living in certain large urban areas were taking home bigger pay cheques than their male colleagues.

In New York, women in their 20s earned a median wage of $35,653 - 17% more than the male median of $30,560.

Other cities showed an even bigger difference in favour of women: in Dallas, for instance, the figure was 20%.

The findings present a stark contrast to the situation elsewhere in the country. Taking the whole of the US into account, the median earnings for women in their 20s was $25,467, well behind the equivalent figure of $28,523 for men.

The edge

Dr Beveridge believes the phenomenon is driven by two things: education, and a change in lifestyle choices.

Women, he argues, have been graduating from college in larger numbers than men, giving them an edge when applying for jobs.

"Barriers to education have fallen for women and they now have access to better skilled work opportunities," he says. "In 2005, 53% of women in their 20s working in New York were college graduates compared with only 38% of men of that age."

Another change is in life choices.

"About 45% of New York City women aged 25 to 64 ever marry," he says. "Elsewhere in the country, some 61% of women live with a spouse."

And those women who do marry are tying the knot later, leaving more time to develop - and focus on - their careers.

But ultimately, he believes the deciding factor is that New York and other large cities in the US pull in educated 20-something women because they represent places of greater opportunity.

"They go to New York seeking their fame and fortune," he says. "There is a vast range of jobs and occupations there that don't exist anywhere else. This draws in the high achievers."

'The mommy trap'

For campaigners on workplace equality, Dr Beveridge's research has been greeted as a sign of progress.

After all, some studies - by Catalyst, for instance - have indicated that firms with more women in their top management experience better returns than those with lower female representation.

However, some academics are keen to stress that Dr Beveridge's analysis does not necessarily mean a truce has been called in the battle of the sexes.

Michael Philip Fisher is an adjunct lecturer of Political Science and Women Studies at Hunter College in New York. He argues that female dominance at university might be to the detriment of men.

"Educational institutions need to prepare men and women equally," he argues.

"At my college, 72% of our 21,000 undergraduates are women. If this trend continues on a national basis we may see women outnumbering men in some fields by 50%.

"Our institutions need to prepare men and women equally."

It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman - you never get paid enough
Angela Arcaro-Vinas

In addition to this, he says that although women may be marrying later this does not stop them from eventually facing some kind of discrimination.

"One significant contributor to pay inequality today is when a woman goes on leave either to give birth or raise her child.

"When she comes back she will find herself a year or two behind the rest of the workforce in terms of training, or might have missed on wage increases."

In other words, the so-called "mommy trap" remains largely intact - and is waiting to ensnare the new batch of urban and educated 20-something women when they do decide to marry and raise a family, just as it has their predecessors.

"The root causes of the pay gap between men and women still exist and could kick in later. This is not an occasion to stop talking about this problem."

Spreading trend?

Nevertheless, Dr Beveridge speculates this trend of women becoming higher earners than men could become stronger - especially if factors remain the same as they are.

"It might take a while but this effect could spread out to smaller cities," he suggests. "In 40 years' time, women could simply be earning more money than men. We will have a better idea when the 2010 census comes out."

In the meantime, Angela Arcaro-Vinas says she could never imagine that she might be making more than her male counterparts.

"I would have said the pay is relatively equal between men and women - never greater," she says. "I guess New York is a more forward-thinking and liberal city.

"But at the end of the day I suppose it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. You never get paid enough."




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