On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, protecting workers from discrimination, including pay discrimination, on the basis of sex. Sixty years later, women’s economic security has vastly improved, with women participating in the labor market at near-record rates and the gender wage gap reducing substantially. Despite these significant gains, today’s working women—and, most acutely, working Latinas and Black women—continue to typically earn less than their male counterparts and experience the negative consequences of a stubborn gender wage gap throughout their entire working life and into retirement. In fact, new estimates from the Center for American Progress show that the cumulative cost of the gender pay gap to women is $61 trillion since 1967.
CAP analysis also shows that if the gender wage gap continues to shrink at the rate it has between the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and 2021, median full-time, year-round working women will not achieve pay parity with men until 2056—and all women, regardless of hours or weeks worked, will not achieve parity until 2052.* This will take even longer for working women of color.
Women and their families cannot afford another 30 years of suffering the negative economic consequences of the wage gap.
Women and their families cannot afford another 30 years of suffering the negative economic consequences of the wage gap, and even this rate of progress is not necessarily guaranteed—particularly without any structural change. In order to finally close the gender wage gap, policymakers must do more to boost the economic security of women and their families, including by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Intentional policy decisions have helped shrink the gender wage gap over time
In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, the typical woman working full time, year-round earned just 59 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts; and when accounting for all workers, regardless of hours or weeks worked, they earned only 37 cents. (see Figure 1) Since then, substantial progress has been made to reduce the gender wage gap. In 2021, full-time, year-round working women typically earned 84 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts—representing a 25-cent improvement. And for all women workers in 2021, that figure dips to 77 cents on the dollar, an improvement of 40 cents.
This progress did not happen by accident. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act enshrined into law equal pay for equal work, explicitly prohibiting pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Following the act’s passage, further legislation built on this core principle to not only make it easier for women to participate and stay in paid work but also be paid equitably. For example, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act ensured that, under the law, sex- and race-based discrimination are illegal. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and legislation passed by Congress, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, gave women the right to decide when and how they would form families and protected them against discrimination at work for becoming pregnant.
Other examples of policies that have helped reduce the gender wage gap include increases to the minimum wage, along with the fact that women surpassed men’s educational attainment rates in the late 2010s.
The pay gap most acutely affects Black women and Latinas
The overall gender wage gap masks the economic reality of many women of color.
As a consequence of intersecting racial, ethnic, and gender biases, many women of color—particularly Black and Hispanic women—tend to experience the largest gender wage gaps. For example, in 2021, Latinas and Black women working full time, year-round typically earned 57 cents and 67 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. And when accounting for all Latinas and Black women working, they typically earned 54 cents and 64 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. For many women of color—particularly Black women, who are the women most likely to be the sole breadwinners of their families—the gender wage gap limits their economic security and that of their families.
Black women and Latinas, of course, are not the only women of color who experience larger gender wage gaps. Due to small populations, data on certain demographics are often difficult to detail; however, it is clear that Native women as well as women within various Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups also experience severe wage gaps.
The wage gap hurts women’s economic security
Despite recent gains to women’s economic security, the gender wage gap lives on and is costing women a lot more than just a couple of cents. In fact, in 2021, women working full time, year-round typically earned $9,954 less than their male counterparts. (see Figure 2) That equates to a little more than what the average household spends on food in a year or their combined spending on utilities and health care.
Moreover, the impact of the gender wage gap accumulates over time. Since 1967, the first year for which U.S. Census Bureau data are available, working women have cumulatively lost $61 trillion in wages. Nearly half of these losses have been accrued by women working full time, year-round. To put this disparity into perspective, it is nearly 2 1/2 times the U.S. gross domestic product in 2022 and nearly double the current U.S. government debt.
Since 1967, the first year for which U.S. Census Bureau data are available, working women have cumulatively lost $61 trillion in wages.
The effects of these lost wages have multiplicative macroeconomic implications, in terms of both consumer spending and productivity. Indeed, academic literature has found that closing the gender pay gap has been shown to enhance productivity in other countries and is therefore good for businesses and the economy at large.
Sixty years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the gender wage gap is still costing women, their families, and the U.S. economy. Despite substantive progress, the 60-year anniversary of the Equal Pay Act is an important reminder that pay equity is not a foregone conclusion—nor is its path necessarily linear—but that significant progress can occur with the intentional actions of policymakers. In addition to passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, policymakers can take the following actions to help close the gender pay gap:
These types of meaningful actions would go a long way to improving the lives of millions of women and their families, taking an important step toward finally closing the ever-enduring gender wage gap.
The authors would like to thank Anona Neal, Isabela Salas-Betsch, Lily Roberts, and Maggie Jo Buchanan for their assistance and helpful feedback.
*Authors’ note: Authors’ calculations used figure data to project linear trends using the least-squares method.