Even as we march through Women’s History Month 2023, women are still not in the pink when it comes to wage equity. The latest data from Pew Research and the Center for American Progress (CAP) reveals a stubbornly persistent wage gap between genders. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men—a percentage that has barely budged in 20 years.
It’s not a good look for employers aiming to appear progressive and attract workers during a labor shortage. Especially when stated objectives contrast with reality – and the truth comes out. Gender Pay Gap Bot (@PayGapApp) on Twitter is again this year publicly calling out companies that mark Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day with celebratory tweets and ads but are not walking the walk of pay equity. The bot finds companies that tweet in support of women, and retweets exposing their gender pay gap.
Women more educated but paid less
The number of women holding at least a bachelor’s degree has surpassed that of men for 20 years and yet the wage gap has remained steady. Their income lags from the onset of their careers and then it falls even farther as compared to men’s wages over time. The pay gap between college-educated women and men is no narrower than that between women and men without college degrees.
- In 2022, 48% of women held at least a bachelor’s degree as compared to 41% of men. U.S. median hourly earnings in 2022 were $20.60 and hour for women and $25 an hour for men.
- In 2002, the number of women and men with at least a bachelor’s degree was about the same – around 31%. At that time, U.S. median hourly wages were $18.62 for women and $23.27 for men.
Intersectionality and the pay gap
The wage gap remains even wider for women of color and older women. In the U.S., Hispanic women bring home 65% of the median hourly earnings of white men. Black women fare only slightly better at 70%. White women earned 83% as much as their white male counterparts. Asian women had the narrowest gap at 93%.
Older women also fare worse. Women’s pay steadily decreases relative to that of men as they age, according to 2022 reports from CAP and Pew Research.
- Women ages 25 to 34 earned about 92% as much as men the same age.
- Women ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 earned 83% as much.
- Women 55 to 64 earned 79% as much as men the same age.
- Women 65 and older earned 73% as much as men the same age.
This is revealing considering that women’s caregiving burdens decrease after childrearing years. According to the CAP report, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have their careers affected by caregiving responsibilities.
- 30% of women ages 25-54 with minor children at home reported caregiving had an impact on their employment- compared only 3.7% of men with minor children at home.
- 12.9% of non-retired women 55-64 reported that caregiving had an impact on their employment- compared to only 2.4% of non-retired men the same age.
While women remain much more likely to be impacted in the workplace by caregiving responsibilities, older women are much less impacted than younger women- and yet their pay gap compared to men the same age widens.
This pattern has not changed in four decades, leaving women – especially single and divorced women- at greater risk of poverty in retirement. Wage stagnation impacts savings and social security, as well as the ability to pay down mortgage debt. Consequently, elderly women experience poverty at greater rates than men. Of women 65 and older, 17.1% of divorced women and 19.5% of never-married women had incomes below the poverty threshold, according to a 2022 report of the Congressional Research Service.
Concentration of women in pink collar jobs
Part of the pay gap relates to the over-representation of women in lower-paid sectors such as teaching, nursing, retail, childcare, and hospitality (though the media industry should certainly not count itself immune from this issue). This is a chicken-or-egg scenario. While the concentration of women in these fields may indicate more women feel drawn to “helping professions” it may also represent a longstanding societal de-valuation of work traditionally associated with women. Pink-collar jobs are critical to society- representing some of the labor hardest to outsource- but tend to garner low pay due in part to stereotypes of “women’s work” and women’s wages as merely supplemental.
New data shows women still greatly over-represented in education, with 73% of jobs in that sector held by women. More women are entering STEM professions but are still starkly under-represented in those higher-paying fields.
- The number of women in computer, science, and engineering jobs grew from 19% in 1982 to 27% in 2022.
- The number of women in media, legal, social, and arts jobs increased from 40% in 1982 to 56% in 2022.
- The number of women in management grew from 26% in 1982 to 40% in 2022.
Fewer women entered the lower paying fields of administrative support, food preparation and food service. This may be related to women’s rising education levels.
The question of “choice”
Are women more likely to reduce hours or drop out of the workforce after childbearing by choice – or because the greater pay of male spouses makes it more financially feasible for the parent with lower pay to assume an unpaid caregiver role? Another chicken-or-egg quandary.
While fathers with children at home earn more on average than men without children at home, the reverse is true of mothers. Fathers do report spending more hours at work than mothers; however, the stereotype also persists of fathers as breadwinners and mothers as exercising their “choice” to work. Certainly, single mothers don’t have a choice about whether to work, nor do many women in families with lower household incomes.