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Gender pay gap is eroding, especially among younger women, US data show

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"A tremendous amount of progress has been made [on the earnings gap between men and women], in many ways more than I thought would be made," says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington. The wage gap, she notes, has been cut nearly in half. "It's not good enough, but it's progress," Ms. Hartmann says.

And progress has also been made on the sex segregation of the labor market, with many previously male-dominated fields – including law, banking, medicine, and civil service jobs like bus drivers and mail carriers – opening up to women.

Both those trends are largely the result of women's increased entry into higher education, in which female graduates have outnumbered male graduates since the mid 1980s. 

But Hartmann and others also caution that there's still a tremendous amount of work to do before women have true equality in the workforce.

A recent study from Catalyst, a nonprofit New York-based organization that promotes women in the business world, found that women in the business world are offered fewer of the "hot jobs" – those jobs with high visibility that are central to an organization's mission and tend to lead to promotions down the road.

The Catalyst survey of top MBA grads found that men led projects with budgets more than twice the size of women's, with teams that were more than three times as large, and that posed a higher risk to the company. Men also had roles with significantly more critical responsibility – one reason, Catalyst suggests in its analysis, for the persistent gender gap at senior levels that exists in the business world.

Another major factor in continuing inequities is the lack of parental supports, says Hartmann.

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