The wage gap between men and women has gradually narrowed in recent decades, but it remains significant.
According to the Obama Administration, full-time working woman in the US. make, on average, just 77 cents for every dollar that men make. At that rate, it’d take more than 60 additional days for a woman to earn what a man had made at the end of the previous year. Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce and are the main breadwinners in roughly four out of 10 households, according to the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group. And women, today, have eclipsed men in the number of college and graduate degrees earned. Yet, on average, women earn less than men in almost every occupation for which there is sufficient wage data. Based on 2011 American Community Survey data, the median wage for full-time male workers was $48,202 and $37,118 for women, NWLC reported.
Equal Pay Day
President Obama on Tuesday, April 8 recognized “Equal Pay Day,” the date marking how far into this year a woman, on average, would have to work to catch up to what a man made last year (based on the 77-cent estimate), by signing two executive orders to help close persistent pay gaps. The measures, which circumvent Congress, prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss wages, and require employers to report wage data, including sex and race breakdowns. “America deserves equal pay for equal work,” Obama said during the picture-ready signing ceremony, part of a strategic push by Democrats to woo more women voters in advance of the 2014 midterm elections.
A recent Pew Research study looked at hourly earnings for both full- and part-time workers and found that women, on average, now earn closer to 84 cents for every dollar men earned — the equivalent of 40 days additional work. The report also found that the pay gap grows increasingly wider for older workers; among younger women, the disparity was smaller, at 93 cents for every dollar men earned. In a separate analysis of Census Bureau data, Pew also reported that women are now the leading or solo breadwinners in 40 percent of households compared with just 11 percent in 1960.
Opposition to legislation
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats re-introduced the proposed “Paycheck Fairness Act,” which would essentially extend the requirements of Obama’s executive order to workplaces throughout the nation. The third attempt to pass the legislation, it was again narrowly defeated, blocked by Republican lawmakers who almost uniformly oppose it. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader, said the bill was little more than a political ploy. “Democrats chose to ignore serious job-creation ideas so they could blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the left,” he said on the Senate floor. Critics of the administration are also quick to note that gender wage inequities exist within Obama’s own White House. Earlier this year, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, reported that female White House staffers make, on average, 88 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. Although most White House salaries follow a pay schedule, the report found that more women occupy lower posts, resulting in a median salary of $9,000 less than men.
Why does the wage gap still exist?
Causes of the gap are still hotly contested. Some academic studies argue that the disparity is due mainly to non-discriminatory factors related to division of labor in the home — including childcare — that often fall 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 often result in less senior positions and lower wages. Additionally, women are still more likely than men to be employed in lower-paying service and support professions. Some studies, however, point to evidence that the gender wage gap still persists even after variables like family leave are taken into account, concluding that systemic discrimination remains a primary factor in the disparity.
Click on each state in the map below to see what women, on average, made for every dollar men made in 2011 (the ratio of female to 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 2011 data from the American Community Survey, collected by NWLC. Note that some figures have changed slightly since 2011. (Download the data here) Leading the pack was Washington D.C., where full-time female workers made, on average, 90.4 cents for every dollar male workers made. In California, which ranked fourth, women made 84.9 cents for every dollar made by men. Wyoming is at the bottom of the list, where women made a mere 66.6 cents for every dollar men made.
How the gap has changed over time
When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, full-time working women on average made about 59 cents for every dollar men made. By 1973, the gap had actually grown wider: women made 57 cents for every dollar men made. Since then, however, the gap has gradually narrowed, although it’s remained fairly stagnant for the last decade.
By race/ethnic group
The 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.
Even within the same professions, women today are still paid significantly less, on average, than men. But the pay gap varies dramatically by job, according to NPR’s Planet Money team, which looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The chart below, by Lam Thuy Vo, shows jobs where the wage gap is smallest and largest (based on comparisons of full-time workers). Part of the gap in pay, Vo notes, results from professional decisions some women voluntarily make. 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.