Report: Gender pay gap may not close for generations

Patricia Arquette accepts her award for Best Supporting Actress at the 87th Oscars February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images
Patricia Arquette accepts her award for Best Supporting Actress at the 87th Oscars February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.

Patricia Arquette helped put the spotlight on the gender pay gap during her Oscar acceptance speech last week when she announced to nearly 37 million viewers that it's "time for wage equality." Now a new study shows just how big that gap remains around the world.

The International Labor Organization reported Friday that globally, women earn approximately 77 percent of what men do, a figure that has improved by only 3 percentage points over the past two decades. (And the gap is even wider among high earners.) The U.N. group warned that the pay gap won't close for more than 70 years if it continues to shrink at the current rate.

"Despite significant progress since the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, women continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace," the authors wrote.

That finding was underscored by results of a survey by marketing firm DDB shared exclusively with CNBC.com on Friday. It found that 70 percent of men and 86 percent of women agree that discrimination against women in the workplace happens "a lot."

"We think we live in a time when men and women are treated equally in the U.S., but clearly attitudes don't show that," said Denise Delahorne, senior vice president at DDB U.S., who analyzed the data.

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Unequal compensation for the same work as men continues to be an issue that millions of American women face despite progress to help bridge the gender pay gap. Though substantial gains have been made over the past few decades, women in the U.S. still made about 82 percent of what men earned in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (That's the most recent year for which data is available.)

Generations differ on gender equality at work

Woman in office
John Fedele | Getty Images

The DDB survey of 2,860 U.S. adults looked at attitudes about gender inequality at the workplace among baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. Boomers were more likely to say that discrimination was a problem than were younger generations.

But Rosanna Hertz, a Wellesley College professor of sociology and women and gender studies, said this may not signal a change in attitude among younger Americans as much of a lack of work experience. Millennials have spent less time in the workplace and may thus have had less opportunity to witness discrimination based on gender unfold beyond entry-level positions, she said.

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The survey also found some surprising biases among women. More than 1 in 5 female respondents said the president of the United States should be a man and 17 percent said "men are naturally better leaders than women." Among men, 36 percent said men were better leaders and 29 percent agreed the president should be a man.

"It is sad that we have had female secretaries of state and yet both men and women continue to feel that men make better leaders," Hertz said.

The study comes two days before International Women's Day. "Shining a spotlight on issues about gender equality for women is clearly necessary so that everybody understands what protections exist under the law," Delahorne said. "We've made great strides in this nation around gender equality, but the work isn't done."