Photographer: Martin Barraud/Getty Images

In 136 Years, Women Will Be Paid as Much as Men. Maybe

You can disagree on how big the pay gap is, but there’s no disagreement that there is one.

Women of New York, rejoice. You have the smallest gender pay gap of all 50 states, earning 89 cents for every dollar your male peers make.

This may hardly seem like good news—until you see the numbers for Wyoming. Nicknamed the Equality State, with “Equal Rights” as its motto, Wyoming is a place where it doesn’t pay very much to be a woman—in fact, it only pays 64 cents for every man’s dollar, the worst in the U.S. 

Progress in narrowing the gender pay gap nationally has slowed since 2001, according to The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap, a report published on Thursday by the American Association of University Women. If that rate of change persists, U.S. women will be paid the same as men by 2152, according to the advocacy group’s report. 1 It said that the impact of the gap is more profound now, citing a 2014 study from the Center for American Progress. That study showed that the percentage of mothers with kids under age 18 who are main or sole breadwinners in families was 41 percent in 2012, up from 11.3 percent in 1967.  

At the same time, however, the ratio of male-to-female earnings nationally last year was 79.6 percent, the narrowest in inflation-adjusted data going back to 1960. And the outlook for parity can differ dramatically by state.

There’s a lot of debate about how to interpret a gender pay gap. Those who use the oft-cited statistic about American women making 78 cents to a man’s dollar as evidence of discrimination (the number is more like 80 cents) are not comparing apples to apples, some researchers argue, citing different hours worked and divergent career choices, among other things.

Skepticism of this measurement is valid, said Catherine Hill, the AAUW’s vice president of research. It’s an overarching number that mixes together a lot of things, including age and occupation. She said that figure is more notable for showing trends, such as a narrowing of the gap during the 1980s and 1990s, “when women’s educational achievements were a driving force,” and a flattening of that line tracking the gap over the past 15 years.

the-simple-truth-figure-1
Source: AAUW

After factoring in age, occupation, and other data, there’s still a gender pay gap that can’t be explained away, said Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin. “But,” she adds, “we aren’t smart enough to say that a gender pay gap is due to discrimination.”

The AAUW’s Hill said that, after controlling for 11 factors, the report found a 7 percent gap exists one year after women graduate from college. “That tells us something else is going on,” she said. “Yes, the choices we make are a big part of it, but it’s also the choices people assume we’re going to make,” such as taking time out of the workforce to raise kids or to take care of other family members.

The AAUW also analyzed pay gaps between races and ethnicities. Among the findings: Hispanic, Native American, Native Alaskan, African American, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander women had a smaller gender pay gap compared with men in their same racial or ethnic group than did non-Hispanic white and Asian American women.

Source: AAUW


Wage gaps between women and men in the same occupation can also be large, the report found. “Segregation by occupation is a major factor,” it states. The jobs with the biggest pay gap happen to be central to the modern economy: financial manager and software developer. As more women have moved into once male-dominated positions, that effect has lessened, but further integration of more occupations stalled in the early 2000s, according to the AAUW.

Source: AAUW

More women moving into those roles over the coming years will help narrow the gap, but not eliminate it, the study concluded. One thing is for sure: The title of the AAUW report is a huge misnomer. There is nothing simple about the gender pay gap. 

—With assistance from Chloe Whiteaker in Washington, D.C.

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