GAO has found that the pay gap by gender in the federal workforce, always smaller than that in the overall U.S. workforce, has narrowed “considerably” over the last 20 years, primarily due to the changing nature of the work and the changing backgrounds of federal employees.

A report said that on average federally employed women made 7 cents less on the dollar than men in 2017, down from a gap of 19 cents in 1999. Almost all of that reduction was due to changes in what GAO called explainable differences, which fell from 11 cents to 1 cent on the dollar in that time, while unexplained differences narrowed from just 8 to 6 cents.


A 2009 GAO report meanwhile had found a gap of 11 cents on the dollar, of which 7 cents were not explained by differences between men and women in measurable factors such as occupation, education, and experience. It said factors associated with lower pay that have changed over that time to narrow the explainable portion since 2009 include that:

* The percentage of women in lower-paid clerical positions decreased from 19 to 8 percent while the percentage of men in such positions remained stable at 3 percent.

* The percentage of women who in higher-paid professional and administrative occupations increased from 50 to 67 percent while the percentage of men in those occupations increased by only six points, to 63 percent.

* The percentage of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 31 to 53 percent and while the comparable percentage among men rose from 45 to 51 percent.

* Men no longer have more federal service on average, with both men and women now averaging 13.6 years, compared with 16 and 14.1 years previously.

The unexplained portion of the gap “may be due to factors that are not captured in available data, such as work experience outside the federal government, or those that cannot be measured, such as discrimination and individual career choices . . . the existence of a pay gap, taken alone, does not establish whether unlawful discrimination has occurred,” GAO said.

GAO added that its findings were consistent with those of a 2014 study by OPM showing the gap in just white-collar jobs had fallen from 30 to 13 cents on the dollar over the prior 20 years and that 4 cents of that gap was unexplained. That report similarly said that discrimination could be a factor but did not specifically blame it.


It said the gap in the overall American workforce is 18 cents on the dollar. The significance of that figure is questioned by some as not accounting for differences such as numbers of hours worked and factors associated with higher pay such as occupational differences and experience.

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