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Fact Sheet: The Wage Gap for Women

The Consequences of Workplace Pay Inequity for Women in America

SOURCE: AP/Susan Walsh

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named after Lilly Ledbetter, left, was a step forward, but it fails to get to the root of the problem. The Paycheck Fairness Act would outlaw workplace policies that make disclosing one’s salary a cause for being fired.

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See alsoFact Sheet: Workplace Flexibility by Sarah Jane Glynn and Joanna Venator; Fact Sheet: Paid Sick Days by Jane Farrell and Joanna Venator; Fact Sheet: Child Care by Sarah Jane Glynn; Fact Sheet: Paid Family and Medical Leave by Sarah Jane Glynn; Ask the Expert: The Need for Paid Sick Leave by Sarah Jane Glynn

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Americans are working hard to pay their bills and take care of their families, yet too many employers make it impossible to juggle those work and family obligations. The danger of losing a job or missing a promotion because of illness, pregnancy, or taking care of loved ones when so many companies are focused solely on the bottom line leaves too many moms and dads having to choose between their jobs and their families.

About half of all workers on U.S. payrolls today are women. Moreover, the major- ity of mothers, whether married or single, work outside the home, meaning that in most American families, all of the adults work, and there is no full-time stay-at-home caregiver.This is not just a “women’s issue” since the changing nature of our families impacts men and women, adults and children. Indeed, as our population continues to rapidly age, more and more workers are finding themselves providing elder care to their aging parents as well.

While our workforce and families have changed dramatically, our nation’s labor standards have not been updated in decades. There are sensible policies that would assist families while simultaneously helping employers’ bottom lines, but both employers and policymakers have been slow to recognize how fundamentally our lives have changed and what needs to be done to make our workplace policies match the way that we live and work today.

In this series we identify five issues facing workers today: paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, workplace flexibility, child care, and the wage gap. As our nation has reached a pivotal moment in history, policymakers will have to decide whether they will take the necessary steps to support hardworking American families or whether they will continue along with the status quo.

Here are the key facts you need to know about the wage gap and how it affects women.

  • Women who work full time year round continue to earn only about 77 percent of what men earn. The gap between the median wage for a man and that of a woman in 2010 was a whopping $10,784 per year. That is enough money for the average woman to fund a year of higher education and a full year of health care costs, while still having more than $2,400 to contribute toward her retirement.
  • The gender wage gap widens with age and accumulates over time. For young women at the beginning of their careers—between the ages of 25 to 29—the annual wage gap is about $1,700. But for women in the final five years of their careers before retirement, the wage gap grows to a whopping $14,352. Over a 40-year career, the average woman will lose $431,000 to the gender wage gap. That’s enough to buy two houses or pay for more than seven four-year college degrees.
  • The gender wage gap exists for all women, regardless of race or ethnicity. White women earn 21.9 percent less than white men; black women earn 10.2 percent less than black men; Latinas earn 8.7 percent less than Latino men; and Asian American women earn 20.3 percent less than Asian American men. The wage gap is smaller for African American and Hispanic women primarily because wages for people of color tend to be lower overall.
  • In spite of the fact that women are now earning the majority of college degrees, the wage gap persists. The American Association of University Women found that college-educated women start out earning 5 percent less than their male peers—even when they went to the same of schools, made the same grades, entered the same jobs, and made the same choices regarding marriage and children. After 10 years on the job, the wage gap widens to 12 percent—even when women have kept working at the same pace as their male peers.
  • Single women face an even larger, on average, gender wage gap than married women. Single women typically earn less than married women—21.2 percent less. Moreover, they earn only 57 cents to the dollar, compared to married men.
  • There is also a wage gap between mothers and childless women. This “mother’s wage penalty” reduces the pay of moms by about 7 percent per child. Slightly less than a third of the gap is based on taking leave to care for a child.11
  • Part of the reason women earn less than men is related to the fact that they are more likely to work in so-called pink-collar jobs, which offer low wages. The top 10 occupations for women include secretaries and administrative assistants, cashiers, retail salespersons, and waitresses. These types of jobs tend to pay less than those in male-dominated industries and professions.
  • Occupational segregation cannot explain away the gender wage gap. Only about a quarter of the wage gap is due to occupational differences, and about 10 percent of the gap is due to the fact that women are more likely than men to leave the paid labor force to provide family care. Even when controlling for occupation, experience, race, and union membership, 41 percent of the wage gap cannot be explained through measurable factors, indicating that part of the discrepancy is due to gender-based discrimination.
  • The gender wage gap does not just hurt women—it impacts entire families, as well. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are either the breadwinner for their family or share that responsibility with a partner. Women’s earnings therefore are vital to their families’ economic well-being. When women earn less, their families suffer as a result.
  • Legislation that would help narrow the wage gap has been stymied by Congress. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—which helps women and minorities who have been discriminated against by restarting the clock on the statute of limitations with each discriminatory paycheck—was a step forward, but it fails to get to the root of the problem. The Paycheck Fairness Act, however, would empower women by outlawing workplace policies that make disclosing one’s salary to coworkers a cause for being fired and would provide negotiation training for women and girls. Inexcusably, it has yet to come up for a full vote in either the House or the Senate in this Congress.

The bottom line: It is past time to remedy pay inequity between men and women.

Sarah Jane Glynn is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

Download this fact sheet (pdf)

Read this issue brief in your web browser (Scribd)

See also:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org