A study released this week reports that women’s wages in Michigan are lower than in almost all other states.

The national Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that women in Michigan make two-thirds of the average male income, and it ranked the state 49th, with only Wyoming below it. The District of Columbia, Hawaii and Maryland were ranked first, second and third.

The institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization, studied the status of women in all 50 states by examining factors such as political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, reproductive rights and health. While Michigan’s rankings varied over these different areas, the results in employment and earnings stood out.

“On a whole, Michigan has higher wages for women than many other states, but comparably to the wages that men receive there is room for improvement,” said Erica Williams, coordinator of the research program and co-author of the study. “This can be attributed to a low percentage of (Michigan) women who complete four years of higher education. … The low number makes a difference in what types of jobs women can get, as seen in that 36 percent of women are in managerial positions.”

Business Prof. Lynn Wooten said the discrepancy in wages between men and women in Michigan is due to “the economic infrastructure of the state.”

“Michigan has blue-collar roots — many centered around the automobile industry — and men generally have those high-paying jobs,” she said. She points out that women tend to have more “pink- collar” jobs such as secretary and child care positions.

In addition, Wooten said the difference in wages could be a result of the high number of unions in Michigan. Wooten said fewer women participate in unions, but high-paying jobs tend to go to unionized workers. The United Auto Workers officials said 25 percent of their members are women.

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business has initiatives encouraging women to get involved in higher paying professions. “We are trying to remove the glass ceiling to get more women into higher paying jobs and getting higher wages to pink-collar jobs traditionally held by women,” Wooten said.

LSA junior Ashwini Hardikar, a core member of the University’s chapter of Amnesty International, has worked to promote women’s rights both domestically and abroad. She said one explanation for the wage disparity is the lack of health insurance offered by many jobs. This discourages single mothers with a greater demand for health insurance from applying for these positions.

“The best way to combat this is to be assertive by networking with other women. It starts in the community — you can affect change very visibly if you start small,” she said.

Despite lower women’s wages, the state received a high ranking in the category of women’s political participation. While the study did not include data from the most recent presidential election, the female voter turnout from 1998 and 2000 elections, as well as the presence of female politicians such as Gov. Jennifer Granholm, helped boost the state’s ranking in this section.

The report stated purpose was to provide information on the progress of women’s equality and on the existing barriers to that equality.

Williams said the only way to facilitate change is to show the state government that issues of women’s equality are important. “Equal opportunity laws are already present,” she said. “They need to be implemented and enforced.”

 

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