Women’s employment rates are at record highs—demonstrating a remarkable recovery from rates at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet despite the fact that women have been driving the COVID-19 recession labor market recovery, gaps between men’s and women’s earnings persist. And while these gaps affect nearly all women, they are especially pronounced for Black, Hispanic, and older women.
A variety of factors contribute to the gender wage gap, including occupational segregation, where women are overrepresented in low-paying jobs and underrepresented in high-paying ones; gender-based pay discrimination that results in women being paid less for the same work as men; and disparities in domestic and caregiving responsibilities between men and women.
The first step to closing these gaps is understanding them. This column provides an original analysis of the updated income data published in September 2023 by the U.S. Census Bureau and offers five takeaways on the gender wage gap in 2022.
Read more about the causes and consequences of the gender wage gap
The “Addressing the Gender Wage Gap” series provides resources on the wage gap as well as policy recommendations to help improve pay equity and reduce discrimination.
A note on the data
Wage gaps are calculated using the median annual earnings for workers ages 15 and older. A full-time, year-round worker is a person who worked at least 35 hours per week (full-time) and at least 50 weeks during the previous calendar year (year-round). “All workers” includes part-time and part-year workers in addition to full-time, year-round workers.
1. 2022 marked the lowest wage gap on record, but Black and Hispanic women continue to experience the largest gaps
Last year, women working full time, year-round earned a median income of $52,360, which was $9,990 less than the median income of men working full time, year-round, or 84 cents on the dollar. Comparing among all workers, including those who work part time and for part of the year, women typically made $41,320, which was $11,450 less than men, or 78 cents on the dollar. There were statistically significant declines in income between 2021 and 2022 , which resulted in a small narrowing in the unrounded wage gaps, as a ratio of women’s earnings to men’s earnings, of 0.2 percentage points for full-time, year-round workers and 1.4 percentage points for all types of workers, marking the lowest gender wage gap on record. While the gap shrank in 2022, the underlying data show that the situation for households last year was difficult, resulting from high levels of inflation that have since come down, and inflation-adjusted income changes were negative for both genders, but more so for men by percentage points. Even so, the narrowing of the gender wage gap in aggregate is an encouraging sign for women, when just a decade ago, the gender wage gap was 77 cents on the dollar among full-time, year-round workers and 71 cents for all types of workers.
The wage gap persists, despite some recent progress
Amount earned by women working full time, year-round for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, 2022
Amount earned by all women for every dollar earned by all men, 2022
Although the wage gap has historically been calculated using full-time, year-round workers, calculating the wage gap using all workers is also important to understand the full range of the female workforce; women are more likely to work part time due to market conditions as well as disproportionate domestic and caregiving responsibilities.
Black and Hispanic women continue to experience the largest wage gaps when compared with white, non-Hispanic men. These gaps reflect the intersecting racial, ethnic, and gender biases that many women of color experience. In 2022, Black and Hispanic women working full time, year-round typically earned 69 cents and 57 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. When accounting for all Black and Hispanic women working, they typically earned 66 cents and 52 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. (Figure 1)
While the wage gap for Asian women overall compared with white, non-Hispanic men was smaller than for other groups, this group is not a monolith; several subgroups of Asian women earn substantially lower wages than Asian women as an aggregate group. For example, in 2020, Vietnamese women working full time, year-round were typically paid 66 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. The data analyzed in this fact sheet do not include Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women, which are expected to be released later this year, although previous research also finds larger wage gaps among this population.
LGBTQI+ equal pay
For decades, LGBTQI+ people have faced increased risks of experiencing economic insecurities, including higher rates of poverty and unemployment. However, there is a lack of routine data collected on this population—data that are needed for researchers and policymakers to improve this group’s economic security. Congress should pass the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, which requires federal surveys to collect voluntary, self-disclosed demographic data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics, including intersex traits. Such data will help generate policy solutions that advance equal pay for LGBTQI+ people.
2. The gender wage gap exists for women of all ages and widens over a woman’s career
Across every age group defined in the Census Bureau’s income data, women working full time, year-round typically earned less than similarly aged men, meaning women experience a gender wage gap for their entire working life. (Figure 2) These gaps also grow over a woman’s career, with older women experiencing the largest gaps compared with similarly aged men. In 2022, women ages 25–44 made $54,410, 88 percent of what men within this age group made, whereas women ages 45–64 made $56,870, 78 percent of what their male counterparts made. Women ages 65 and older earned $51,810, 78 percent of peer men’s earnings.
The larger wage gaps that older women experience can be partly attributed to the fact that older women disproportionately work in more occupationally segregated professions, which tend to be low wage, as well as the existence of generational divides in access to education. These gaps persist despite the fact older women have become a large and growing share of the labor force, with projected growth in employment over the next decade.
3. Earnings losses due to the wage gap compound over a woman’s career
The wage gap does not just affect women’s day-to-day economic reality—it also compounds over a lifetime. Over the course of a 40-year career, assuming the wage gap remains at its current level, the wage gap costs women working full time, year-round almost $400,000. Losses are even greater for Black and Hispanic women compared with white, non-Hispanic men. (Figure 5)
Earnings losses due to the gender wage gap over a women’s career
Earnings lost by women working full time, year-round, 2022
Earnings lost by all working women, 2022
Recent research by the Center for American Progress found that since 1967, the first year for which U.S. Census Bureau data on earnings by gender are available, working women have cumulatively lost $61 trillion in wages to the gender wage gap, and nearly half of these losses come from women working full time, year-round.
4. Older Black and Hispanic women experience the largest wage gaps of any group
In almost every cross section of age and race and ethnicity, women working full time, year-round earned less than white, non-Hispanic men. (Figure 3) As discussed above, Black and Hispanic women earn the lowest of any group, and this holds true across ages. In 2022, Black women ages 45–64 typically earned $52,050—just 64 percent of a white, non-Hispanic man’s earnings. Hispanic women ages 45–64 made $41,950—51 percent of a typical white, non-Hispanic man.
These gaps may be attributed to the fact older women are less likely to ask for or receive a raise, apply for a job, or have started a new job in the prior year, compared with older men or young workers. Older women also experience the intersection of age and gender discrimination and appear to have less access to job training—experiences that contribute to earning lower wages. For older women of color, these experiences are compounded with systemic racial and ethnic inequities.
5. Women are more likely than men to earn low wages
A larger share of women working full time, year-round earn low wages compared with the share of men working full time, year-round. For example, 15 percent of women earned less than $30,000, which is about the poverty threshold for a family of four in 2022, compared with 10 percent of men. (Figure 4) Women earning lower wages is a main driver of the gender wage gap and reflects occupational segregation, a trend in which gender norms and expectations funnel men and women into different industries and jobs with different pay.
A higher share of women (2.4 percent) than men (1.8 percent) earn less than $15,000, the approximate yearly income at the federal minimum wage ($7.25). If the minimum wage were $17 per hour, amounting to a yearly income of $35,000, 23 percent of women would make less than this salary, compared with 16 percent of men. Given that women are overrepresented among those earning less than $17 per hour yearly, a minimum wage increase to $17 would help reduce gender wage gaps. In fact, research on the $15 minimum wage found that if it had been in place in 2021, Black women would have experienced the largest reduction in their pay gap on record.
It is essential that policymakers advance critical reforms such as the Paycheck Fairness Act—a historic piece of legislation that would strengthen existing equal pay protections; prohibit retaliation against workers who discuss their pay or challenge pay discrimination; and limit employers’ reliance on salary history. Additionally, comprehensive work-family policies, such as a universal paid family and medical leave program, would ensure that working women can fairly participate in the labor market. Furthermore, the federal government must also ensure that gender equity is prioritized throughout the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, so that women are uplifted by these historic investments.
The author would like to thank Sara Estep and Becca Damante for their help with this column.