The Path to a Pay Gap Starts Early for Black Women and Girls
When it comes to the gender pay gap some women are penalized even more than others. AAUW’s The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap reveals that black women make only 63 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make. That’s an even larger disparity than the national ratio for all women compared to all men — 80 percent — despite black women participating in the workforce at much higher rates than most other women, and also at higher rates than black men. That means that we observe black women’s equal pay day, the symbolic day until which black women would have to work to make what white men made the year before, much later in the year than Equal Pay Day for all women.
Why is this happening?
Black women and girls live at the intersection of sexism and racism. While sexism and racism are distinct forms of discrimination that manifest differently, their effects are compounded when one experiences both at the same time. Discrimination against black women and their families has serious effects, including the perpetuation of racial and gender gaps in wealth, educational opportunities, and the workforce.
In 2013 the median white household had 13 times the wealth (“wealth” refers to total assets minus debts) of the median black household — specifically, the median white household had about $134,000 to the median black household’s $11,000. The wealth gap black families experience can be traced back to such historic injustices as slavery, segregation, redlining (the practice of demarcating areas of a city or town by race, often leading to denying necessary goods or services to people who live in those areas), unequal access to government programs like cash welfare and the GI Bill, and ongoing institutionalized and systematic discrimination. This disparity in wealth spans generations and perpetuates unequal opportunities, decreasing the amount of resources black families can devote to education and career advancement.
Primary and Secondary Education
The educational opportunities available to black Americans are closely tied to their economic status. A 2015 Urban Institute analysis found that black children are disproportionately educated in high-poverty schools, which are defined as schools where more than 75 percent of attending students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. More than 45 percent of black students attend high-poverty schools compared with only about 7 percent of white students. Schools with high rates of poverty tend to receive less funding, which impedes student learning.
Race and gender inequities for black girls also intersect when it comes to school-administered discipline. As early as preschool black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. Overall, black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls — the highest rate for any race or ethnicity. Even though black girls receive harsher discipline in school there is no evidence to suggest that black students engage in more misconduct or violent behavior. This disproportionately harsh discipline pushes black girls out of the classroom, creates unwelcoming environments, and decreases their educational opportunities even before they reach college.
Postsecondary Education and the Workforce
Black women also face challenges in attaining a college degree. Postsecondary education often costs black women comparatively more because they and their families have lower incomes and less wealth with which to pay tuition and other fees required to attend college. AAUW’s Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans report found that, as a result, black women take on almost 50 percent more student loan debt than white women do.
Once they obtain degrees black women face a larger pay gap than white or Asian women or white men do. Consequently black women repay their student loans more slowly and are more likely to default on their debt than white men and women. During repayment 57 percent of black women reported that they had difficulties making ends meet. The economic burden is heavier still for black women who enroll and take on student debt but do not complete their programs: Students who do not complete their degrees are more than twice as likely to default on their student loans.
The combination of the wider pay gap and higher student loan debt means that black women are already burdened with a unique set of disadvantages when they enter the workforce, but the workforce itself presents many more challenges. Black women are more likely to work low-paying jobs with few benefits or protections. Labor market discrimination makes it difficult for college-educated black women to find jobs that fit their skill sets. Black women also have a harder time advancing in their fields.
Equal pay helps everyone.
Paying all workers fairly means more earners can support their families and contribute to the economy. With 8 out of 10 black mothers serving as the breadwinners in their households nationwide, a fair salary can mean the difference between poverty and sustainability for a family.
Equal access to quality education, made possible in part by having enough wealth to spend on education, sets black women and girls up for well-paying jobs in their chosen fields. Closing the racial and gender pay gaps as well as the wealth gap is essential to black women’s and girls’ success.
What can you do?
The pay gap is a stubborn problem that affects different groups of women differently. AAUW believes that taking action on multiple fronts is the only way we will be able to close that gap. Below are ways you can take action on behalf of yourself, your community, and women everywhere.
- Attend an AAUW Work Smart or Start Smart salary negotiation training so you know how to make sure you’re paid fairly.
- Share AAUW’s research in your community or with your elected leaders to reinforce that the pay gap is not a myth.
- Become a Two-Minute Activist and advocate for AAUW issues when your voice is needed most.
This post was written with input from Senior Researcher Kevin Miller.
Find out more about the gender pay gap for women of all races and what you can do if you experience discrimination in your workplace.
Learn more about how student debt disproportionally affects all women.
The pay gap is not the same for everyone. Find out how race relates to pay.