It’s not optimistic thinking to say that the gender pay gap is slowly narrowing. It’s a fact — but it’s also a fact that we have a long way to go toward eliminating that gap. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, women made about 80 cents for every dollar men made (a figure that compares the median annual pay for full-time year-round work).
Back in 1951, the gender pay gap was 63.9%, so it has actually narrowed a fair amount. Following the passage of The Equal Pay Act of 1963, that percentage fell into the high 50s, and started its permanent upward trend around the beginning of the 1980s, when the wage gap was about 36 cents. Unfortunately, that progress is now slowing.
“If you look back over the last decade, there has been very little change in the gap, very small changes, it’s not closing in any significant way,” says Chandra Childers, Ph.D., Study Director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
An IWPR projection shows that if we continue at the current pace, it will be 2059 before the national gap closes.
Fact: The gender pay gap varies by state and age
The national average is 80 cents for women, but 23 states clock in above that average. California has the closest gap, at 89.13%, followed by the District of Columbia, New York, Florida and Delaware.
Louisiana ranks last at 68.80%, followed by Utah, Indiana, Alabama and West Virginia.
The American Association of University Women, an organization that promotes equity and education for women and girls, attributes the differences by state to a variety of factors including:
- The primary industries in the state and the opportunities they create.
- Demographics such as race/ethnicity, age and education level.
- Regional differences in attitudes and beliefs about work and gender.
- Differences in the scope and strength of state pay discrimination laws and policies.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, women ages 25 to 34 have a smaller wage gap than the overall gap. Women in that younger age group earned 89 cents per dollar compared to men in the same age group.
Unfortunately, the gap increases as women get older. Women ages 55-64 are paid 78% as much as men who are roughly the same age.
Fact: Race makes a huge difference in the gender pay gap
The same 2017 census report looked at all men and women, inclusive of race, and said median earnings for men were $52,146 and for women, $41,997, representing a gap of 20%.
The disparity is much greater for many women of color. According to AAUW, Asian women earned the highest amount compared to men, at 85%. White women earned 77%, black women earned 61%, and Latina women earned 53% of the income of their male counterparts. Those numbers were published in the AAUW’s fall 2018 report, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.”
In considering the IWPR projection that the overall gender gap will narrow in 2059, once you take race into consideration, it will take much longer to eliminate the gap: Projections show the gap will not narrow for black women until 2119 and for Latina women until 2224.
Fact: Occupational gender segregation exists
Occupational gender segregation is another factor that contributes to the gender pay gap; it’s short-hand for the fact that men and women often tend to work in different jobs, for any number of reasons, both culturally dictated and otherwise.
The reasons for this segregation are many-fold, but the implications are stark: Studies show that male-dominated industries typically pay more on average than professions that are female-dominated. Even when women enter occupations where mostly men work, those women often earn less than men, and overall wages in that profession go down.
Fact: There is a motherhood penalty
There is also “the motherhood penalty,” wherein women are penalized for the (generally false) assumption that they choose more flexible schedules and jobs since they do a majority of the child-rearing and housework.
“There’s that association in many people’s minds that women, especially women of childbearing age, or who are having children, or have children, that they will be less dedicated to work [because] they’ll take more time off for their children,” Childers says. “So there’s already a desire not to promote them as much, not to see them as ambitious, and to pay them less. Whereas for fathers with children, the [thought] is he has a family to support, so he’s going to be more driven, he’s going to be willing to work harder to provide for his family.”
Fact: Women do not talk about money enough
Women are not as likely to ask for promotions or raises as men. Also, a lack of discussion about wages amongst coworkers contributes to discrepancies.
“I think it’s very uncomfortable for people to talk about wages in general,” Childers says. “But when women do try to negotiate, they’re more often viewed more negatively, so they get more backlash than men do. When men negotiate, it’s expected that they will negotiate, but when women negotiate, they may be viewed as aggressive, so they get that backlash. But I’m hopeful that that’s beginning to change as more and more attention is being paid to negotiations,” she said.
So, why will it take so long to close the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap kicks in as soon as women enter the workforce, since according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn less than men in the same jobs — and because salaries and raises are often based on previous salaries, the gap does not go away.
The Labor Force Statistics list tracks hundreds of occupations, and with few exceptions, it does not matter if the job is high-paying, lower-paying, professionaor non-, women earn less than men.
Exceptions where women earn more than men on that list include:
- Wholesale and retail buyers
- Paralegals and legal assistants
- Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians
- Combined food preparation and serving workers
- Billing and posting clerks
- Receptionists and information clerks
- Postal service clerks
- Stock clerks and order fillers
- Office clerks
The largest discrepancies between pay for men and women are in the financial field.
Fact: The gender pay gap is harmful to women’s economic security
Since the pay gap begins when women enter the workforce, they have less financial security as they age than men do.
Studies have shown that women accumulate more student loan debt than men. Because of the gender pay gap, they have less money to put towards those loans, meaning they will stay in debt longer.
Women will also have less money for their retirement because they are necessarily investing less into personal accounts. Social security earnings, employer-provided retirement accounts and pension funds are tied to salary, so a lower salary means less money there.
So, what can we do about the gender pay gap?
Experts have some advice about how women and allies can work to close the gender pay gap.
- Talk about pay with coworkers, which will lead to salary transparency.
- Work on negotiating skills.
- Help businesses address the inherent bias they have about women, and remove that from the decision-making processes.
- Ask for higher salaries when negotiating for a job.
- Eliminate salary negotiations by having a set pay range for the job.
The next generation can help speed up the narrowing of the gap, but the work of making that happen must start early.
“We’ve got to change the way we think of socializing people for the role that they take on in life. We can’t channel little girls into girl jobs,” Childers says. “We have to open up and allow them, at each level, from parents, to teachers, to everybody, [to think about] what are their skills, what are their abilities, and what does that match with? Not what is their gender and what does that match with.”
Tiffani Sherman is a freelance reporter based in Florida. She loves to travel and learn about people and cultures in different countries.