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Laura Steck has always wondered whether the male professor hired by York College around the same time she was received a larger starting salary, but she would never actually ask, she said.

"It's a social taboo," she said of asking a colleague about his or her salary.

Based on recently released 2014 Census Bureau data, it's likely Steck is making less than her male counterpart.

According to the data, the median salary of working men over the age of 25 is more than $14,000 higher than that of women in York County, a difference that's slightly higher than the state (less than $13,000) and national (more than $11,000) averages.

The data includes full and part-time workers.

The numbers: Although the difference represents a decrease in the gender wage gap from five years earlier (nearly $16,000), Steck, who teaches a women's and gender studies course, said not a whole lot of progress has been made in closing that gap on the national level.

"Unfortunately, as women gain more education, the pay gap increases," she said. "You would assume the more educated a woman gets, the closer her (salary) would get (to her male counterpart's)."

Though the county's statistics don't necessarily support Steck's statement, the national figures do, with the median salary gap increasing from about $8,500 in men and women with less than a high school diploma to nearly $26,500 for those with a graduate or professional degree.

The only way for a woman to address the issue, Steck said, is to bring the matter to court, where the burden of proof falls on the female employee to prove gender discrimination, which is nearly impossible thanks to nondisclosure agreements that allow employers to refuse to provide employee salary information.

"The assumption is that women are less productive, especially women with children, because their focus is elsewhere," Steck said. "It's just the opposite for men with children, as employers assume he'll work harder to provide for his family."

Manufacturing: Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania, was happy to learn that the gap is decreasing, but he acknowledged it's not closing quickly enough.

As for the larger gap in the county, Palisin suggested one reason could be that the manufacturing sector, which represents one of the higher-paying local sectors, doesn't employ as many women.

Women comprise less than a quarter of the advanced manufacturing workforce nationally, according to a 2014 National Association of Manufacturers report.

Manufacturers employ the second-most York County residents (nearly 37,000) of any sector, behind only the educational, health care and social services category, but that number has dropped from five years earlier, when manufacturers employed about 41,300, according the census reports.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.

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