The gender pay gap is the gap between what men and women are paid. Most commonly, it refers to the median annual pay of all women who work full time and year-round, compared to the pay of a similar cohort of men. Other estimates of the gender pay gap are based on weekly or hourly earnings, or are specific to a particular group of women.
No matter how you analyze it, the gender pay gap is real, persistent, and harmful to women’s economic security.
The gender pay gap is the result of many factors, including occupational segregation, bias against working mothers, and direct pay discrimination. Additionally, such things as racial bias, disability, access to education, and age come into play. Consequently, different groups of women experience very different gaps in pay.
Employer practices — such as using prior salary history in setting current pay and prohibiting employees from discussing their wages — compound the problem.
The gender pay gap varies substantially from state to state, due to such factors as:
- The primary industries in the state and the opportunities they create;
- Demographics such as race/ethnicity, age, and education level;
- Regional differences in attitudes and beliefs about work and gender; and
- Differences in the scope and strength of state pay discrimination laws and policies.
In 2017, the state with the largest gap was Louisiana, which had a gender pay ratio of 69%; the state with the smallest gap was California, with a gender pay ratio of 89%.
The gender pay gap occurs across almost all occupations and industries:
- Male-dominated industries tend to have higher wages than industries and occupations made up mostly of female workers;
- In a comparison of occupations with at least 50,000 men and 50,000 women in 2017, 107 out of 114 had statistically significant gaps in pay that favored men; six occupations had no significant gap; and just one had a gap favoring women.
- In some occupations, women collectively are receiving billions less than they would with equal pay; for instance, women working as physicians and surgeons are paid $19 billion less annually than if they were paid the same as men in that occupation.
If women were paid what men were paid, women would gain billions in earnings every year.
The gender pay gap shrank between 1980 and 2000 as attitudes changed and large numbers of women entered the workforce, but since then the gap has largely stalled — closing by less than a nickel.
Closing the gender pay gap will take action from individuals, employers, and policymakers. What can we do to close the gap faster and get fair pay now?
AAUW’s renowned The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap report finds women are still paid just 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man! We can change that with AAUW’s multipronged economy security initiative: by changing laws, encouraging employers to improve workplace cultures and practices, and empowering women to negotiate to their financial futures by making our Work Smart program available nationwide.
Learn more about Work Smart Online and join the Members Mobilize a Million Challenge.