Personal Finance

Gender wage gap narrows but shows no signs of going away

Key Points
  • Over the past 30 years, women's wages have increased much faster than men's in higher skilled jobs, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
  • Still, the gender pay gap is "hard to shake," says report's author.
Here's what companies can do to help close the gender pay gap
Here's what companies can do to help close the gender pay gap

The gender wage gap has remained remarkably stubborn for decades.

Still, gains are being made.

As of 2018, women earned 85% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers in the U.S. That's up from 67% about one generation ago.

Although women continue to experience a persistent pay gap in nearly every occupation, a growing number of women in higher-skill jobs has contributed to more rapid wage growth, which has helped to narrow the difference, according to data from Pew.

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"This is the first time we have taken a look at job skills," said Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher at Pew and author of the report.

The Pew analysis found that women now account for more than half of the employment in jobs that draw most heavily on social or fundamental skills, including legal positions, teaching and counseling.

At the same time, the share of women working in occupations that rely on analytical skills — such as math and science — jumped to 42% in 2018, from 27% in 1980.

The type of positions that women hold has evolved, as well, Kochhar said. "The share of women in administrative support has dropped over time, and the share of women in managerial jobs has increased," he said.

Adjusted gender gap in base pay by U.S. industry

As a result of these gains, women's hourly wage growth rose 45% since 1980, to $22 from $15, while the hourly wage growth for men increased just 14%, to $26 from $23 — narrowing the gender wage gap to 85 cents on the dollar, from 67 cents on the dollar 30 years ago.

A separate analysis by Federal Reserve economists also found that the shift in favor of women's earning power has been pronounced in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Much of the gap has been explained by criteria such as education and work experience. Women are more likely to work part time and take time off over the course of their careers, often to care for children or other family members, according to the Pew Research Center.

If there is a sick child, for instance, chances are it's the mom who will stay home.

It has narrowed over time, but nonetheless there is this gap that is hard to shake.
Rakesh Kochhar
senior researcher at the Pew Research Center

But there are other factors that are more difficult to measure, such as gender discrimination, which may contribute to the ongoing wage discrepancy, Pew said.

For example, men often see a bump in pay when they have children, according to a separate report by the British trade union association TUC, whereas for women, incomes drop 30% after giving birth for the first time and then never catch up.

"It has narrowed over time, but nonetheless there is this gap that is hard to shake," Kochhar said.

Based on today's wage gap, a woman just starting out will lose $406,760 over a 40-year career, according to a separate analysis by the National Women's Law Center. (See the chart below for a state-by-state breakdown of the lifetime wage gap.)

The pay gap worsens significantly for minorities, particularly African-American women and Latina women, the center also found.

For Latina women, the lifetime wage gap totals more than $1 million, and for African-American women, the losses are close: $946,120, the nonprofit advocacy group said.

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