Women’s income is lower on average than that of men in part because they generally work less, leave the labor force for longer periods and tend to hold jobs that pay less, a congressional study found.

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But even after adjustments are made for those factors, women still earned an average of 20.3 percent less than men in 2000, investigators said Thursday.

The General Accounting Office conducted the earnings study for Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York and John Dingell of Michigan.

The 20 percent gap has been relatively unchanged in the past two decades. In 1983, the difference was 19.6 percent.

The study could not explain reasons for earnings difference, but noted that experts have speculated the gap could be because of discrimination or the decision by some women to work forgo career advancement for family friendly jobs that offer more flexibility and less stress.

“These decisions may have specific consequences for their career advancement or earnings,” the study said. “However, debate exists about whether these decisions are freely made or influenced by discrimination in society or in the workplace.”

Men work on average 2,147 hours per year, compared with 1,675 for women, the study said.

Almost nine of 10 men worked full time compared with two of three women. Men were out of the labor force an average of one week compared with three weeks for women, the report said.

The influx of women in the labor force in recent decades has failed to result in significant changes in America’s places of work, the study said.

“Research suggests that many work places still maintain the same policies, practices and structures that existed when most workers were men who worked full time, 40-hours per week,” the report said. “As a result, there may be a mismatch between the needs of workers with family responsibilities and the structure of the workplace.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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