Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Is Progress Being Made?

The gender pay gap – the difference between the earnings of men and women – has barely closed in the United States in the past two decades. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. That was about the same as in 2002, when they earned 80 cents to the dollar. The slow pace at which the gender pay gap has narrowed this century contrasts sharply with the progress in the preceding two decades: In 1982, women earned just 65 cents to each dollar earned by men.

Line chart showing gender pay gap narrowed in the 1980s and ’90s, but progress has stalled since
There is no single explanation for why progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century. Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time. The pay gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college. In fact, the pay gap between college-educated women and men is not any narrower than the one between women and men who do not have a college degree. This points to the dominant role of other factors that still set women back or give men an advantage.

One of these factors is parenthood. Mothers ages 25 to 44 are less likely to be in the labor force than women of the same age who do not have children at home, and they tend to work fewer hours each week when employed. This can reduce the earnings of some mothers, although evidence suggests the effect is either modest overall or short-lived for many. On the other hand, fathers are more likely to be in the labor force – and to work more hours each week – than men without children at home. This is linked to an increase in the pay of fathers – a phenomenon referred to as the “fatherhood wage premium” – and tends to widen the gender pay gap.Family needs can also influence the types of jobs women and men pursue, contributing to gender segregation across occupations. Differential treatment of women, including gender stereotypes and discrimination, may also play a role. And the gender wage gap varies widely by race and ethnicity.

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