AAUW Issues: Gender Pay Gap

Mothers Equal Pay Day anonymous

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 pay 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 pay discrimination.

Despite civil rights laws and advancements in women’s education and economic status, workplace discrimination still persists. On average, women who work full-time earn about 79 cents for every dollar a full-time male worker earns. Over a lifetime of work (47 years), the total estimated loss of earnings of women compared with men is $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 7 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 pay gap persists across all racial and ethnic groups, and it is found in every state. AAUW’s report The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap found that among full-time workers in 2014, Hispanic, American Indian, African American, and Native Hawaiian women had lower median annual earnings compared with non-Hispanic white and Asian American women. The pay gap was largest for Hispanic and Latina women, who were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2014. Further, working mothers are often penalized for having children, while fatherhood generally tends to boost a man’s career.

Real Consequences

Wage inequality isn’t simply 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 the key to families making ends meet and moving working families into the middle class. Pay discrimination also limits women’s life choices and has real short- and long-term consequences. It impairs the ability of women and families to buy homes and pay for college educations, and it limits their total lifetime earnings, savings, and benefits, which makes women much more vulnerable to poverty in retirement.

Closing the Gap

On Equal Pay Day 2014, President Barack Obama signed two executive orders intended to provide new tools for employees of federal contractors to fight the pay gap. One executive order prohibits retaliation against contractor employees who talk about their salary with their co-workers, while the other directs the U.S. Department of Labor to collect wage data, including the race and sex of employees, from federal contractors. In July 2014, Obama signed another executive order requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations within the last three years. AAUW strongly supports implementation of these orders, not only to advance equal pay but also to ensure that the taxpayer dollars funding the almost $700 billion of annual contracts are not used to underwrite discrimination.

These executive actions will have a real impact. According to the Department of Labor, nearly 1 in 4 American workers is employed by the more than 200,000 businesses that receive federal funds for contracted work. The executive orders will benefit these employees, but they won’t help the millions of other workers facing discrimination and cannot address all the factors that contribute to pay disparity. That’s why we still need congressional action on the following legislation:

Paycheck Fairness Act: The PFA 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.

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. We urge the administration to increase their budget request for these critical enforcement agencies and further urge Congress to support that request. Special attention should be given to pregnancy and caregiving discrimination — areas in which claims are on the rise.

AAUW continues to advocate for strong pay equity legislation, executive action, regulation, and enforcement to protect employees and assist employers as they strive to follow the law. 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.