Women continue to earn less than men. In 2012, the last year for which we have data, women earned 76.5 cents for each dollar earned by a man. Men's annual earnings were $49,398 and women's were $37,791, a difference of $11,607. (See the chart.)
The pay gap in 2012 remained essentially unchanged since 2001. In prior decades it had been narrowing, particularly over the 1980s when the gain was over 10 cents.
Over the past 30 years, women have slightly closed the gap with men for two reasons: rising earnings for women and stagnant earnings for men. For over 30 years, men’s earnings have stagnated while women have seen modest gains. In a better and more equitable economy, both men’s and women’s earnings would rise, but women’s would rise faster to close the gender pay gap.
Causes of the Gender Pay Gap
Discrimination. There are multiple reasons for the gender pay gap but the most important is discrimination in pay and in promotion: a woman does the same or similar job as a man, and has similar skills and experience, but she is paid less or passed over for promotion. The most blatant forms of sexual discrimination are illegal. But current law is too narrow to serve as an effective deterrent or tool for enforcement.
Choice of occupation. Occupations that traditionally have been “women’s work” generally pay less than traditional male occupations that require similar levels of education and training. Some of the bills currently being debated in Congress would address this problem. But even within traditional occupations, studies show that women earn less than men employed in the same type of work. Moreover, women face a pay gap in nearly every occupation
Education. At every level of academic achievement, women earn less than men. In recent years, women’s educational attainment has exceeded that for men. But young women, including college graduates, continue to face a pay gap.
Family responsibilities. Women who leave the workforce (often for family reasons) may be paid less when they return to work due to their relative inexperience. But even childless women experience a pay gap.
Racial and ethnic differences. Women of all racial and ethnic groups earn less than men in their same group. Gender pay differences are largest for white (77.9 cents on the dollar) and Asian (77.6 cents on the dollar) women. African American and Hispanic women have smaller pay gaps compared to men in their own racial/ethnic group, earning 88 cents and 88.2 cents, respectively, for each dollar paid a man. The smaller pay gap experienced by these women is due to the lower pay received by men, not higher pay for women. Compared with the pay received by white men, Hispanic and African American women are the farthest behind, receiving just 54.1 and 64.5 cents, respectively, for each dollar paid a white man.
What to do
Two bills currently in Congress could narrow the gender pay gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act increases penalties for employers who pay different wages to men and women for equivalent work, and provides guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs with the goal of eliminating unfair disparities. The Fair Pay Act expands protections for those who work in female-dominated or minority-dominated jobs by establishing equal pay for equivalent work. Congress must pass these bills.
For more information