AAUW Issues: Gender Pay Gap

The American Association of University Women believes that pay equity and equal opportunity are a matter of simple fairness. AAUW is a leader in the fight to end wage discrimination and open doors for women in the workplace.

Job creation and economic opportunity are critical issues for women, many of whom continue to struggle with economic insecurity and wage discrimination.

Despite civil rights laws and advancements in women’s economic status, workplace discrimination still persists. On average, women who work full-time earn about 80 cents for every dollar a full-time male worker earns. Over a lifetime (47 years), the total estimated loss of earnings of women compared to men are $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate and $2 million for a professional school graduate.

Additional AAUW Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on the Gender Pay Gap

AAUW’s report Graduating to a Pay Gap found an unexplainable seven percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation, even after accounting for many factors including college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, college selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and motherhood. Clearly, the wage gap exists.

The wage gap persists across all racial and ethnic groups, and it is found in every state. The most recent AAUW report, The Simple Truth About the Gender Wage Gap, found that among full-time workers in 2013, Hispanic, American Indian, African American, and Native Hawaiian women had lower median annual earnings compared with non-Hispanic white and Asian American women. The wage gap was largest for Hispanic and Latina women, who were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2014.

Real Consequences

Pay inequality isn’t just a women’s issue, it is a family issue. Recent research has found that 40 percent of households with children include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family. Pay equity is not just a matter of fairness, but the key to families making ends meet. Wage discrimination also limits women’s choices and has real consequences. It impairs their ability to buy homes and pay for a college education, and limits their total lifetime earnings, thereby reducing their retirement savings and benefits.

Closing the Gap

On Equal Pay Day 2014, President Barack Obama signed two executive orders intended to provide new tools to fight the wage gap for federal contractors. One executive order prohibits retaliation against federal contractors who talk about their salary with their co-workers, while the other directs the Department of Labor to collect wage data from employers including the race and sex of federal contractors. In July 2014, President Obama signed another executive order requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations within the last three years.

According to the Department of Labor, nearly one in four American workers is employed by the more than 200,000 businesses that receive federal funds for contracted work. These contracts total almost $700 billion annually. These executive orders will benefit these workers, but they won’t help the millions of other workers facing discrimination and won’t address all of the reasons for pay disparity. That’s why we still need Congressional action on the following legislation:

Paycheck Fairness Act: The PFA would expand the scope of the Equal Pay Act with incentives for employers to follow the law, strengthen penalties for violations, enhance federal efforts, and prohibit retaliation against workers asking about wage practices.

Fair Pay Act: The Fair Pay Act would require employers to provide equal pay for work of equal value, whether or not the jobs are the same. This legislation addresses equal pay for women working in female-dominated jobs equivalent to jobs traditionally dominated by men. The legislation would ban retaliation, require employers to file wage information with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, eliminate the “gag rule” on wage disclosure, and prohibit employers from reducing wages to comply with pay equity requirements.

There are additional remedies that can come from the executive branch. These include:

  • Issuing guidance on the permissibility of gender-based affirmative action.
  • Ensuring adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws through sufficient funding and staffing of civil rights enforcement agencies. Special attention should be given to pregnancy and caregiving discrimination—areas where claims are on the rise.

AAUW continues to advocate for strong pay equity legislation, regulation, and enforcement to protect employees and assist employers. AAUW also educates the public about this persistent problem and its effect on working families. These efforts are critical elements as we work to close the gender pay gap.