Wage gap between women, men one of highest in U.S.

Saturday, June 14, 2008
New Hampshire Union Leader

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff
Saturday, Jun. 14, 2008

MANCHESTER – The disparity between wages for men and women in New Hampshire is among the highest in the nation, a policy expert told a gathering of women business leaders yesterday.

Katie Merrow, executive director of the New Hampshire Women's Policy Institute, said the gap not only lasted throughout women's careers, but also left women less prepared for life after them.

"The wage gap is critical throughout our lives, but really catches up to women in retirement," Merrow said.

In New Hampshire, women earn an average of $34,719 per year, compared to $48,254 for men. That 72 percent ratio ranks the Granite State 42nd in the nation; on a national basis, the ratio is 77 percent. More than 60 percent of working women in New Hampshire make less than $25,000 per year, while only 14 percent make more than $100,000, Merrow said.

The wage gap also increases along with salary and education levels. It also increases with age: among 16- to 29-year-olds, women make 88 percent of what men?

The wage gap has contributed to many women facing a tough retirement. Merrow said only one-third of women over 65 years old had incomes topping $50,000 per year, while 29 percent had incomes of less than $20,000 per year. Many of those lived in poverty.

Merrow said many measurable factors play into the wage gap, ranging from marriage and family responsibilities to occupation and education. However, part of that gap -- perhaps as much as 41 percent -- is due to unmeasurable factors, she said. Discrimination is believed to be one factor behind that gap.

Merrow warned the gap was leading to women being less prepared than men for their retirement years, with nearly 30 percent of women facing retirement on a bare-bones budget.

"When the check comes due, it comes due for all of us," Merrow said. "If a woman in her elder years can't cover her costs, she is going to be in need of public care."

Merrow was one of several speakers at yesterday's Women's Leadership Summit, which was held at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. Close to 600 people, nearly all women, turned out for the event. Organizers were thrilled with the turnout.

"It blew us away. It's totally exceeded expectations," said Cathy Schmidt, president of Citizens Bank New Hampshire. The bank, and the Women's Fund of New Hampshire, were the event's lead sponsors.

Keynote speakers included Robin Roberts, the Good Morning America anchor; Tina Packer, one of the world's leading Shakespeare experts and founder and artistic director of Shakespeare and Company, a theatre company; and Geri Denterlein, president of Denterlein Worldwide Public Affairs. Gov. John Lynch also spoke briefly.

Annabel Beerel, an SNHU professor who holds the Christos & Mary Papoutsy Distinguished Chair in Ethics, was the event's host.

The summit was designed with an eye toward personal and professional development, and those attending had the chance to participate in sessions covering topics ranging from negotiation styles to sustainable investing and financial planning. The event also had a commercial expo with dozens of exhibitors.

Those who attended the event praised its focus and format.

"I think it's a great opportunity for women to get exposure to other women's leadership and other women's businesses," said Renee Charney, a Bedford leadership coach.

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