University of Georgia Study Finds Persisting Gender Gap in a Large Federal Government Agency

While women still earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, one would expect that the federal government would be a leader in pay equity, But a new study led by researchers at the University of Georgia finds that women continue to be paid less than men at one of the government’s largest agencies.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services comprises a quarter of the country’s governmental public health workers, with over 80,000 employees. Researchers examined data on pay for the agency’s employees between 2010 and 2018.

The results showed that overall, the gender pay gap narrowed from 13 percent to 9.2 percent between 2010 and 2018. Job type, location, and pay grade explained half of this gap, but 3.5 percent of the gap in 2018 was unexplained by these factors.

The authors speculate that the key may be differences in promotion within the higher pay grades. Women may fce a glass ceiling in appointments to the top jobs in the agency. “Because of the rules of the pay grades in the federal government, differences in promotion are a major contributor of the pay difference,” said lead author Zhou Chen, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Georgia.

The authors emphasize that increased data transparency and strengthening legislation action to ensure equal pay for equal work are needed to help close this gap.

The full study, “Narrowing but Persisting Gender Pay Gap Among Employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services During 2010–2018,” was published on the website of the journal Human Resources for Health. It may be accessed here.

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