The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Fall 2015)

You’ve probably heard that men are paid more than women are paid over their lifetimes. But what does that mean? Are women paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs? Is it because more women work part time than men do? Or is it because women have more caregiving responsibilities?

AAUW’s The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap succinctly addresses these issues by going beyond the widely reported 79 percent statistic. The report explains the pay gap in the United States; how it affects women of all ages, races, and education levels; and what you can do to close it.

Quick Facts
The pay gap has barely budged in a decade. At the current rate, the gap won’t close for more than 100 years. twitter-bird-16x16

Think 79 cents is bad? The pay gap is worse for women of color. twitter-bird-16x16

The gender pay gap is worse for mothers, and it only grows with age. twitter-bird-16x16

Women in every state experience the pay gap, but in some states it’s worse than others. twitter-bird-16x16

Women face a pay gap in nearly every occupation. twitter-bird-16x16

There’s no silver bullet to solve the gender pay gap. More education helps increase women’s earnings, but it still doesn’t close the gender pay gap. twitter-bird-16x16

The Big Number: 79 Percent

Did you know that in 2014, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 21 percent? The gap has narrowed since the 1970s (Figure 1), due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate. But progress has stalled in recent years, and the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own.
Simple Truth Fall 2015 Figure 1


Location, Location, Location: Pay Gap by State

Not only is there a national pay gap statistic, the pay gap can also be calculated for each state (Figure 2). According to data from the American Community Survey, in 2014 the pay gap was smallest in Washington, D.C., where women were paid 90 percent of what men were paid, and largest in Louisiana, where women were paid 65 percent of what men were paid.


The Pay Gap Is Worse for Women of Color

The pay gap affects women from all backgrounds, at all ages, and of all levels of educational achievement, although earnings and the gap vary depending on a woman’s individual situation.

Among full-time workers in 2014, Hispanic, African American, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian women had lower median annual earnings compared with non-Hispanic white and Asian American women. But within racial/ethnic groups, African American, Hispanic, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian women experienced a smaller gender pay gap compared with men in the same group than did non-Hispanic white and Asian American women (Figure 3). Simple Truth Fall 2015 Figure 3


A Closer Look at the Numbers by Race

Using a single benchmark provides a more informative picture. Because non-Hispanic white men are the largest demographic group in the labor force, they are often used for that purpose.

Compared with salary information for white male workers, Asian American women’s salaries show the smallest gender pay gap, at 90 percent of white men’s earnings. The gap was largest for Hispanic and Latina women, who were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2014 (Figure 4). The smaller gender pay gap among African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians is due solely to the fact that those men of color were paid substantially less than non-Hispanic white men in 2014.
Simple Truth Fall 2015 Figure 4


Age Is More than Just a Number

Earnings for both female and male full-time workers tend to increase with age, with a plateau after 45 and a drop after age 65. The gender pay gap also grows with age, and differences among older workers are considerably larger than gaps among younger workers. Women typically earn about 90 percent of what men are paid until they hit 35. After that median earnings for women are typically 75–80 percent of what men are paid.


Education Is Not an Effective Pay Gap Solution

As a rule, earnings increase as years of education increase for both men and women. However, while more education is a useful tool for increasing earnings, it is not effective against the gender pay gap. At every level of academic achievement, women’s median earnings are less than men’s median earnings, and in some cases, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education. While education helps everyone, black and Hispanic women earn less than their white and Asian peers do, even when they have the same educational credentials.


Education improves earnings for women of all races and ethnicities, but earnings are affected by race and ethnicity as well as gender. White women are paid more than African American and Hispanic women at nearly all education levels.

Despite the gains women have made in the workforce, the pay gap persists. Individuals in the workforce, community, and government have the ability to help chip away at the pay gap.



Here are changes that can help close the wage gap.

For companies

While some CEOs have been vocal in their commitment to paying workers fairly, American women can’t wait for trickle-down change. AAUW urges companies to conduct salary audits to proactively monitor and address gender-based pay differences. It’s just good business.

For individuals

Women can learn strategies to better negotiate for equal pay. AAUW’s salary negotiation workshops help empower women to advocate for themselves when it comes to salary, benefits, and promotions.

For policy makers

The Paycheck Fairness Act would improve the scope of the Equal Pay Act, which hasn’t been updated since 1963, with stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, enhance federal enforcement efforts, and prohibit retaliation against workers asking about wage practices. Tell the Congress to take action for equal pay.

Learn more about what you can do to fight the pay gap by reading The Simple Truth and by taking action at


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