Historically, wage gap calculations have only included full-time, year-round workers. And while these calculations have provided critical insight into the persistent wage gap that plagues women across the country, they leave out the millions of women—disproportionately women of color—who work part time or for part of the year. Overall, more than 33 million women workers were not counted in research organizations’ full-time wage gap calculations in 2020, the most recent year for which data are available. In fact, the wage gap for full-time, year-round workers only accounted for 58 percent of working women. (see Figure 2)
Share of working women captured in full-time, year-round wage gap calculations
Recognizing that fact, a variety of efforts are underway to incorporate all female and male workers into wage gap calculation—including part-time and part-year workers—helping to capture the economic realities of all working women. These calculations show that in 2020, the wage gaps across every racial and ethnic group were larger under this more inclusive methodology. While women working full time, year-round made 83 cents for every dollar men made, working women were typically paid just 73 cents per dollar that men earned when all workers were considered—and the disparities were even greater for many women of color when compared with white, non-Hispanic men. (see Figure 1) This cents-on-the-dollar difference matters because it compounds over women’s lifetimes.
The wage gap is not just a liberal narrative or a result of women’s choices
Critics of the persistent gender wage gap claim that it is a byproduct of the choices women make—choices to work fewer hours, take lower-paying jobs, or opt out of the workforce for longer periods than men. In reality, however, the wage gap is directly tied to the gender, racial, ethnic, and other systemic biases rooted in the U.S. economy, and it exists in nearly every occupation and at every level of education. The causes of the wage gap are multifaceted but can be partly attributed to 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 disproportionate caregiving responsibilities.
While some women may choose to work part time, the inclusion of all workers in wage gap calculations also helps to capture the experiences of those women forced to work part time because of unpaid caregiving responsibilities as well as those who want to work more hours but whose employers deny them full-time status and benefits. Furthermore, 2022’s calculations count the many women who were pushed out of full-time, year-round work due to increased caregiving responsibilities and cutbacks in work hours resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred in many female-dominated fields such as the restaurant and retail industries.
Including all women workers in wage gap calculations makes it clear that policymakers must advance a broader policy agenda that helps to close the gender wage gap and bolster the economic security of women and their families.
Women, particularly women of color, are overrepresented in part-time or part-year work
Of the 32.1 million part-time workers in 2021, nearly 60 percent were women. Women of color are nearly half as likely as men to work 45 hours or more per week. Part-time workers are about three times more likely than full-time workers to hold low-paid jobs, and more than 2 in 3 part-time workers in low-paid jobs are women.
Women are overrepresented in part-time and low-paid jobs
Share of part-time workers who are women
2 in 3
Part-time workers in low-paid jobs who are women
Millions of women work part time or for part of the year due to slack work or unfavorable business conditions, the inability to find full-time work, or seasonal declines in demand. Millions of women also work part time because of unpaid caregiving responsibilities and other family obligations—labor that women and mothers are more likely to provide than men.
The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened this state of affairs. The pandemic forced many women to work part time either because employers cut their hours or because they assumed new caregiving responsibilities, including those resulting from school or child care closures and quarantines. Aptly named a “shecession,” the job losses caused by the pandemic hit the sectors dominated by women the hardest, including leisure and hospitality, education and health services, government services, and retail.
Case study: Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) women workers
Including all women workers—including part-time and part-year workers—in the wage gap calculations is particularly critical for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities. AANHPI women working full time, year-round were paid 95 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in 2020. However, when including part-time and part-year workers, AANHPI women workers were paid just 75 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This disparity underscores how critical the all-workers methodology is for painting the full picture of women’s employment, particularly for AANHPI women. What is more, AANHPI women, who are represented by more than 50 ethnic subgroups that speak more than 100 languages and dialects, experience drastically different economic realities. For example, in 2020, Nepali women were paid as little as 46 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, whereas Taiwanese women were paid $1.20 for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. (see Figure 3)
The wage gap is hurting women workers and their families
Closing the wage gap is needed to prevent further erosion of women’s and their families’ economic security. The wage gap for full-time, year-round workers translates into women earning $10,435 less per year in median earnings and $13,551 less when accounting for all workers. The losses are even greater for most women of color. On average, women working full time, year-round lose a combined total of $1.6 trillion per year due to the overall wage gap.
The wage gap for full-time, year-round workers translates into women earning $10,435 less per year in median earnings and $13,551 less when accounting for all workers.
This loss in earnings negatively affects women directly, as well as their families. It particularly hurts families led by breadwinning mothers—predominantly families of color—who depend on these mothers’ earnings to survive. In fact, 68 percent of Black mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners for their families—the highest of any racial group. When mothers reduce their work hours from full time to part time, whether by choice or circumstance, they have less money to pay for household expenses.
Closing the wage gap would also help lift women and children, especially families of color, out of poverty. Women experience poverty—particularly deep poverty—more than men: According to U.S. Census Bureau data, of the 38.1 million people living in poverty in 2018, 56 percent—or 21.4 million—were women. Women of color, particularly Black women, Latinas, and American Indian or Alaska Native women, are disproportionately represented among women in poverty.
Policymakers must advance a broader agenda to help close the gender wage gap
Incorporating all women workers, including part-time and part-year workers, into the wage gap calculations shows that wage gaps across every racial and ethnic group were larger when all women workers were added to the calculations, making it even more urgent for policymakers to act.
Congress must finally pass the long-overdue Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen existing protections and further combat discriminatory pay practices by promoting pay transparency, protecting workers from retaliation, restricting the use of salary history in hiring and compensation, and much more. At the same time, state and local leaders must continue to pass strong equal pay laws, including but not limited to laws that require employers to post salary ranges for job openings, limitations on employer reliance on salary history, and mandated employer reporting of pay data.
Other complementary policy changes are also needed, particularly to support part-time and part-year women workers. Congress must pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage and eliminate the tipped minimum wage to ensure that employers pay all workers—including tipped workers—a decent wage. Congress must also pass the Schedules That Work Act to ensure that workers have enough notice of their work hours so that they can plan their work schedules and meet caregiving responsibilities; adopt nationwide paid family and medical leave and paid sick days; provide families with access to high-quality, affordable child care; and pass the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act to require employers to treat part-time and full-time employees equitably in wages, benefits, and promotions when they perform substantially similar jobs and offer additional hours to existing part-time workers who want to work more before making new hires.
When all women workers are included, the wage gap calculations more accurately reflect the full picture of women’s employment and starker pay disparities. This picture underlines the urgency of advancing a broader policy agenda that helps to close the gender wage gap and bolster the economic security of women and their families.