Remember that “binders full of women” comment made by Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate last October?
That infamous blunder – the subject of countless tweets and memes – was in response to a question about gender wage disparities, an issue that still receives relatively little political attention despite its prevalence.
Although earnings rates have gradually narrowed since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law 50 years ago, the gap is still significant: in 2010, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, as calculated by the National Women’s Law Center (which used 2011 U.S. Census American Community Survey data). That year, the median (middle) wage for full-time male workers was $48,202. And for women: $37,118.
The earning gap between men and women is narrowest for younger workers and grows consistently wider for older workers.
Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce and are the main breadwinners in roughly 4 out of 10 households, according to NWLC. Today women also earn more college and graduate school degrees than men do. Yet, on average, women earn less than men in almost every occupation for which there is sufficient wage data.
The reasons behind the gap are still hotly contested. Some academic studies argue that the disparity is due mainly to non-discriminatory factors involving a division of labor in the home — including childcare — that often falls more heavily on women. Because of family-related circumstances, women are also more likely than men to have interrupted careers and to work part-time, both of which generally result in lower wages. Additionally, women still tend to be employed in a greater number of “helping” and support professions that are often compensated at lower rates than jobs that are still more typically performed by men.
However, many studies point to evidence that the gender wage gap still persists even after these expected factors like family leave are taken into account, leading to the conclusion that systemic discrimination is still a primary factor in explaining the disparity.
Republicans in Congress recently blocked a House vote on legislation known as the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill, which has been introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in the last eight consecutive congresses, would expand the Equal Pay Act to close specific loopholes and allow employees to share salary information with their coworkers. It would also require employers to demonstrate that pay disparities between male and female employees are based on job performance, not gender.
Wage Gap by State
Click on each state in the map below to see what a woman makes for every dollar a man makes (the ratio of female and male median earnings for full-time, year-round workers). The “wage gap” is the additional money a woman would have to make for every dollar made by a man in order to have equal annual earnings. The map uses data collected by NWLC. Download the data here.
Leading the pack in 2011 was Washington D.C., where full-time female workers made, on average, 90.4 cents for every dollar that full-time male workers made. In California, which ranked fourth, women made 84.9 cents for every dollar made by men. At the bottom of the list was Wyoming, where women made a mere 66.6 cents for every dollar men made.
How has the wage gap changed over time?
Although the pay gap between men and women remains fairly wide, it has narrowed significantly over the last half century. When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, the median wage for a woman working full time, year round was about $22,000, as compared to roughly $37,000 for men (or 59 cents for every dollar a man made). By 1973, women, on average, made only 57 cents to every dollar made by men, a gap of 43 cents, the widest since the Census Bureau began tracking earnings. Since then, the gap has gradually narrowed, although it’s remained fairly stagnant for the past decade.
NWLC also has charts listing the wider wage gap that exists between African-American and Latino women over time, as compared to white males.
Gender Wage Gap by Race/Ethnic Group
Although the gender wage gap among whites and Asians is greater than among African Americans and Latinos, it should be noted that African-American and Latino men and women both make significantly less overall than their white counterparts. In 2012, Asian women full-time wage and salary workers had higher median weekly earnings than women of all other races/ethnicities, as well as African-American and Latino men.
The current pay gap grows significantly wider when comparing average annual wages made by women of color to those made by white men. For instance, African-American women working full time, year round were paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 55 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, according to NWLC.
Mouse over the following chart, produced by Catalyst, to explore the data.
Pay Gap by Profession
Even within the same professions, women today are still paid significantly less, on average, than men. But the pay gap varies dramatically for different jobs. That’s according to an analysis that NPR’s Planet Money did of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The chart below, by Lam Thuy Vo, shows the jobs where the wage gap is the smallest and the biggest (based on comparisons of full-time workers).
Part of the gap in pay, Vo notes, results from professional decisions some women make voluntarily, even within some individual job categories. She writes: “Among physicians, for example, women are more likely than men to choose lower-paid specialties (though this does not explain all of the pay gap among doctors).”
It’s also interesting to note, writes Vo, that the jobs where the gap is biggest are the one’s that pay more, on average, than the jobs where the gap is lowest.