Where We Stand: Equal Pay

To achieve economic security for all women, AAUW advocates pay equity and fairness in compensation and benefits.

Despite civil rights laws and advancements in women’s economic status, wage discrimination still persists in every state and virtually every occupation. Women who work full time, year-round take home about 84 cents for every dollar that non-Hispanic, white men earn.

A pay gap persists across all racial and ethnic groups. Women of color experience wider pay gaps—among full-time workers in 2022, Black and Latina women made, respectively, 69 cents and 57 cents on the dollar as compared to non-Hispanic white men. The overall pay gap has only decreased by a nickel during the 21st century and, unless action is taken, the pay gap between men’s and women’s earnings will not close until 2088.

Real Consequences

Over a career—defined as 40 years of full-time, year-round work—women’s total estimated earnings loss due to the gender pay gap is nearly $400,000, according to the Center for American Progress. Black and Latina women experience even greater earnings losses—around $885,000 and $1.2 million respectively, compared to non-Hispanic white men.

AAUW continues to advocate for strong pay equity legislation, executive action, and full enforcement of our current laws to protect employees and assist employers in eliminating the pay gap.

Administrative Actions to Close the Gap

On January 29, 2024—the 15th anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—the administration announced a rule banning the use of salary history for setting a starting wage for federal employees. As a result of the federal government’s pay equity practices, the gender pay gap is already consistently lower in the federal government than in the private sector. The Biden administration has also proposed to extend that rule to federal contractors and to require them to post salary ranges in job listings.

Between 2014 and 2016, the executive branch took critical action to provide tools to fight the pay gap. These actions ensured that federal contractors are prohibited from retaliating against employees who discuss their salary with their coworkers.

There is still more to be done. Federal pay data collection of wage data needs to be restarted. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), collected pay data from private employers in 2018 and 2019, however as of January 2024 that data is not currently being collected. Reinstating pay data collection from private employers, will help the EEOC to investigate discrimination allegations, and uncover gender and race-based wage gaps and patterns of occupational segregation. The executive branch should also take the necessary action to ensure adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws through sufficient funding and staffing of civil rights enforcement agencies.

States can also provide additional equal pay protections through their own legislative action. Over the last few years, state legislatures in dozens of states passed new laws designed to close the gender pay gap. Pay equity laws across states and the District of Columbia differ significantly in their scope and strength.

Congressional Efforts to Close the Pay Gap

Congress must act to codify new equal pay protections into law.

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963, closing loopholes that have weakened the law over time by allowing employers to justify paying workers unfairly. The PFA would also ensure workers can receive the same robust remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity, and bar retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss or disclose their wages. The bill also prohibits employers from relying on salary history in determining future pay; provides technical assistance to businesses; requires pay data collection; and supports salary negotiation skills training programs to give workers the tools to advocate for higher wages. The PFA was reintroduced in Congress on March 9, 2023—urge your members of Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act now.
  • The Fair Pay Act would curb occupational segregation by requiring employers to provide equal pay for work of equivalent value, whether or not the jobs are the same. This legislation would prohibit paying workers less based on their sex or race than they do workers in equivalent jobs that are predominately filled by workers of a different sex or race. For example, this bill would address unequal pay in female-dominated jobs that are objectively rated equivalent to jobs traditionally dominated by men, a major factor behind the pay gap. The legislation would also ban discrimination for bringing or participating in a claim, require employers to file pay information with the EEOC, prohibit discrimination for discussing or disclosing wages, and stop employers from reducing the wages of higher earners (typically men) to comply with pay equity requirements.

AAUW In Action

All public policy actions take direction from the AAUW Public Policy Priorities, voted on by members every two years. AAUW is a nonpartisan organization—but nonpartisan does not mean “non-political”. Since its first meeting in 1881, AAUW has been a catalyst for change. Together, through our coordinated and strategic advocacy, we’ve enacted invaluable legislation at the federal, state, and local levels. The 2023-2025 Public Policy priorities directly identify the goal of achieving pay equity and economic security for all women.

The public policy team engages in many efforts on this key issue, including but not limited to:

  • Working in coalition with other gender equity organizations, including leading the Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition.
  • Mobilizing AAUW advocates and members through targeted calls to action on important legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act.
  • Publishing the The Simple Truth About the Gender Wage Gap report with the latest data on equal pay and policy recommendations.
  • Engaging directly with elected leaders and the public through calls, letters to political offices, and comments and testimonies in hearings.
  • Providing voter education resources on key equity issues to consider during elections and offering information on how elected officials have voted in the past (more about this and Get Out the Vote guides at the AAUW Action Fund). 

AAUW is also committed to empowering women to negotiate their own financial futures by providing training through our Work Smart salary negotiation programs. While you can’t negotiate your way around discrimination, having the expertise to negotiate a higher salary can help ensure women receive the pay and benefits they deserve. All of these efforts are critical to closing the gender pay gap.