March 22, 2023
Findings from a new, comprehensive Pew Research Center study, where the earnings of both full and part time workers were compared, clearly shows that the pay gap between men and women has remained relatively unchanged since 2002, with women earning 17% less than men in 2022.
This comparison helps illustrate things more clearly: American women in 2022 typically earned 82 cents for each dollar earned by men, very similar to what they made in 2002, when they earned 80 cents to each dollar. The rate at which the gender pay gap has changed this century is in sharp contrast with the progress in the two decades prior: In 1982, women earned just 65 cents to each dollar earned by men.
It seems reasonable to think that things would have progressed along with other advancements in the workplace like communications and technology, so why haven’t they? Interestingly, the pay gap between women with a college education and men is not any narrower than the one between women and men who don’t have a college degree. There are several factors that have impacted the ability for things to improve.
One is parenthood. Mothers between 25-44 are less likely to be in the workforce compared to women of the same age who don’t have children at home. And when mothers are employed during this time, they are more likely to work fewer hours, reducing some of their earnings. Fathers, in contrast, are more likely to be in the labor force, working more hours each week, when compared to men without children.
Employers perceive that mothers will be less committed to their work, and have less engagement than fathers, who are perceived to be more committed, focused and striving to earn as caretaker. This differentiation is sometimes called the “fatherhood wage premium.” The study results show that for women either just starting out or in the early part of their careers (who don’t have children) between the ages of 25-34, earn 90 cents to the dollar when compared to men of a similar age.
Another more recent factor that has had bearing on women in the workforce is the impact of the pandemic. Many women did not return to work after the shutdown. According to a recent report from the US Chamber of Commerce, women's unemployment surpassed men's by 4.1% in April 2020 and has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. The unemployment rate since December of 2021 has remained steady. Employment for Asian and Hispanic women decreased 17% and 16.2% respectively; employment for white women showed the least decline at 12.2%
The higher education gap between men and women has had bearing in the past, but since 1982 the number of women with a bachelor’s degree has grown steadily and has increased faster than among men. In 1982, 20% of employed women 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education, compared to 26% of employed men. Twenty years later, 48% of women working had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 41% of men. The growth in bachelor’s degrees acquired by women did not cause a lessening of the pay gap in the same way that it did between 1982-2002.
Surprisingly, the gender wage gap has closed more among workers that do not have a four-year college degree when compared to those who do. For example, in 1982 the wage gap for women without a high school diploma narrowed from 62% to 83% in 2022 relative to men in a similar situation.
Women have continued to work their way into new leadership roles, and continue to gain traction in C-Suite positions, yet women on a larger scale continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying occupations in relation to their numbers in the workforce.
Race impacts earnings for women too, according to the Pew study. Asian women earning 93 cents on the dollar earned by men, were the most competitive with men overall in 2022. White women made 83% as much as men, with Black women earning 70% as much as men, and Hispanic women earning only 65% as much. The disparity of wages weighs heavily on the statistics overall.
The gender pay gap impacts a woman’s ability to save, and create long term financial stability, leading to a significant difference in the benefits she will receive in retirement when compared to a man. The ways in which the pay gap is impacted vary by industry, location (rural/non-rural/regional), ethnicity, age, parental status and educational status.
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