What You May Not Know About the Gender Pay Gap

Graphic of woman crushed by big circle with dollar sign on it

Beyond the Basics

Most people grasp the fundamentals of the gender pay gap: Women working full-time earn roughly 82% of men’s salaries. But here are some fascinating facts you may not know.

  • Mothers, including those who never left the workforce, get paid less than other women.
    This so-called “motherhood penalty” has remained steady for decades, even though the proportion of women who work outside the home has skyrocketed. (What’s more, moms are less likely to get hired than women without kids.)
  • When women enter a traditionally male-dominated occupation, wages go down in that field, even for men. That’s the conclusion of a study of 50 years of U.S. workforce data. Women are not drawn to low-paying fields because they want less money; rather, the work that women do is simply valued less than work done by men.
  • Transitioning genders affects how people are paid.
    People who transition from male to female gender expression experience a drop in pay, while those who transition from female to male gender expression see no difference in pay or even a small increase. This underscores the role that gender stereotypes and bias play in perpetuating the pay gap.
  • The pay gap widens as women get older.
    Women aged 55–64 are paid 78% as much as men the same age, a gap more than double that of women aged 20–24. Earnings for both female and male full-time workers tend to increase with age, although they rise more slowly after age 45 and even decrease after age 55. But as workers progress in their careers, women’s median earnings grow more slowly than men’s.
  • Latinas have the widest pay gap.
    Latina workers earn just 53% of what white men make in a year — followed by Black women, whose annual salaries are 61% of those of white men. This means it takes Latinas almost an entire extra year of full-time, year-round work to be paid what the average white man took home by December 31. Latinas are both overrepresented in low-paying occupations and underrepresented at the top. Moreover, Latinas are paid less than white and Asian women, even when they have the same educational credentials.
  • Women carry more student debt than men.
    About a third of female college graduates experience difficulty repaying educational debt, compared with a quarter of men. Because of the gender pay gap, women have less disposable income with which to pay back their loans after graduation. Repayment is even harder for women of color due to their larger pay disparities compared to men. That’s why women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States — almost $900 billion as of mid-2018.
  • Women are less likely to negotiate than men, and less confident when doing so.
    According to a recent poll, 51% of Americans have negotiated for higher pay, with men negotiating slightly more than women (54% compared to 47%). Men are more confident in negotiating for salaries (61%) compared to women (53%). Negotiating can be tricky for women, but it’s an important way to help close the pay gap. Research suggests that some of the behaviors that help men, like self-promotion and assertiveness, can backfire for women. Still, there are effective tactics women can use to ask for higher salaries and better benefits, including knowing what their skills are worth, making clear what they bring to the table, emphasizing common goals, and maintaining a positive attitude. AAUW’s free online Work Smart course trains women in these strategies.
  • There is only one job where women typically earn more than men.
    In the wholesale or retail buying occupation, women actually make around $4,000 more than men. Among the professions with the smallest pay gaps are food workers, writers, counselors, pharmacists and social workers, where women earn within 97% to 99% of what their male colleagues do. Conversely,the largest gaps occur among financial services sales agents, financial managers and financial advisers. In those fields, the pay ratio between women and men is between 61% and 66%. There is also considerable variation in pay gap among cities and states, which could be a function of differing regional industries, local laws or other demographic trends. Clearly, it’s a complicated issue with many causes. That means we’ll need many solutions as well.