Comparing Salaries for Men and Women in Government

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued a fairly lengthy document about the gender pay gap between men and women in the federal government. The report corresponds with a broader political initiative by the White House on this topic as we edge closer to mid-term elections in November.

On May 10, 2013, President Obama signed a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies on Advancing Pay Equality in the Federal Government and Learning from Successful Practices. This memo directed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to submit to the President a Governmentwide strategy to address any gender pay gap in the Federal workforce. The agency has now done so.

During the 20-year period from 1992 to 2012, the federal workforce has undergone significant demographic changes. There have been large shifts in the distribution of employees by occupational category and education level. Simultaneously, there have been significant shifts in the male-female distribution across occupations and education levels. In terms of general occupational category (Professional-2 Administrative-Technical-Clerical-Other or “PATCO”), there are fewer clerical employees and more administrative employees. The percentage of females in professional jobs has increased. Also, the percentage of employees and the percentage of females with a Bachelor Degree or higher has also increased.

Over the study years (1992-2002-2012), the gender pay gap shrunk from about 30 percent to 13 percent (for all white collar and to 11 percent (for GS only). While most of the findings would appear to be common sense to anyone who has lived in the United States for the past several decades, OPM has gathered statistical data that will be used by various groups that can now be used to advance one cause or another. Here is a quick summary of OPM’s findings.

  • There is a difference in the distribution of  males and females across in  occupational categories. This difference accounts for much of the pay gap.
  • The pay gap was smaller in younger age groups. Pay gaps at different ages may reflect the differences in occupational distribution at those ages. Stated differently, more women are going into professional occupations than they were in previous decades. Presumably, there are now more women lawyers, doctors, accountants and other professionals than there were 20 or 30 years ago.
  • In 2012, pay gaps were found at all education levels, almost all in the 8-10 percent range.
  • In 2012, for supervisors and managers, the average female salary was 95.6 percent of the average male salary; however, females made up only 36 percent of supervisors and managers. Among members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), the female salary percentage was 99.2 percent; however, females made up only 33 percent of SES members.
  • When OPM examined pay gaps by grade level for the GS population, it found that no significant gap between female and male salaries. However, more females were found in lower grades. Presumably, there are more women in administrative assistant and secretarial or clerical jobs than men.
  • For GS employees, a discretionary authority to set pay for new hires above the step 1 minimum rate was used more frequently (on a percentage basis) for males than females in all 3 study years. Closer analysis revealed that these actions are most heavily used in three occupational categories that are male-dominated, which affected the overall usage rates.
  • For GS employees, females received out-of-cycle “quality” step increases for outstanding performance more frequently (on a percentage basis) than males in all 3 study years.
  • Starting salaries were lower for females than males, on average, in all 3 years—roughly 10 percent lower in 2012. When OPM analyzed white collar starting salaries for  37 more-specific occupational categories in 2012,  it found that female starting salaries exceeded male starting salaries for 14 categories and were within 5 percent of male starting salaries for another 12 categories. Only 4 categories had pay gaps of more than 10 percent (no more than 12 percent). • Promotions were received more frequently (on a percentage basis) by females than males in all 3 study years. When OPM examined white collar promotion rates for the 37 more-specific occupational categories in 2012, it found that the female promotion rate exceeded the male rate for 27 of 37 categories.

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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