While it has generally been acknowledged that women earn 80 cents of the typical man’s dollar, a new study shows that number is in reality just 49 cents.
A new study, Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Slowly Narrowing Gender Wage Gap, released on Nov. 28 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) discovered that when measured by total earnings across the most recent 15 years for all workers who worked in at least one year, women workers faced a wage gap of 51% in the 2001-2015 period.
“Much ink has been spilled debating whether the commonly cited measure of the wage gap—that women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man—is an exaggeration due to occupational differences or so-called ‘women’s choices,’ but our analysis finds that we have actually been underestimating the extent of pay inequality in the labor market,” said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.
The analysis also found that while the long-term earnings gap has narrowed significantly since 1968, progress has slowed in the last 15 years.
“The good news is that, over the course of the nearly 50 years covered in the study, women have seen considerable progress in the labor force by entering the workforce at higher rates and staying in the labor force for longer periods of time, which have led to higher earnings and a narrower wage gap,” said Stephen J. Rose, Ph.D., report co-author and nonresident fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute and a Research Professor at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, also commented As progress on achieving pay equity slows, it will be important to prioritize policies that strengthen women’s labor force attachment.”
Other major findings from the study include:
- The penalties of taking time out of the labor force are high—and increasing. For those who took just one year off from work, women’s annual earnings were 39% lower than women who worked all 15 years between 2001 and 2015, a much higher cost than women faced in the time period beginning in 1968, when one year out of work resulted in a 12% cut in earnings. Women’s earnings losses for time out are almost always greater than men’s.
- Improving access to paid leave and affordable child care is critical to strengthening women’s labor force attachment and narrowing the gender wage gap. Despite considerable progress over the last 50 years, 43% of today’s women workers had at least one year with no earnings, nearly twice the rate of men. With high penalties for weak labor force attachment, achieving higher lifetime earnings for women will require strengthening women’s attachment to the labor force. Research has shown that such policies as paid family and medical leave and affordable childcare can increase women’s labor force participation and encourage men to share more of the unpaid time spent on family care.
- Strengthening enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies and Title IX in education is also crucial to narrowing the gender wage gap further. Improved enforcement will help women enter higher-paying fields and occupations that are now, despite decades of progress, still too often