AAUW Issues: Gender Pay Gap

Gender pay gap by state map. Women's median annual earnings compared with men's median annual earnings for full-time workers in 2016.

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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. Typically, women who work full time take home about 80 cents for every dollar a full-time male worker earns.  Over a career (47 years), women’s total earnings loss compared with 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 Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on the Gender Pay Gap

AAUW’s report Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation 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, education attainment, enrollment status, GPA, college selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and motherhood. Clearly, the pay gap exists.

The pay gap persists across all racial and ethnic groups, and it is found in every state. The most recent edition of AAUW’s The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap found that among full-time workers in 2016, 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 2016.

Real Consequences

Pay inequality isn’t just a women’s issue; it is a family issue. Recent research has found that 42 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are their families’ primary or sole breadwinners. 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

Between 2014 and 2016, the executive branch took action to provide new tools to fight the pay gap. Because of these actions, federal contractors are now prohibited from retaliating against employees who talk about their salary with their coworkers. But other protections designed to encourage transparency and add protections for workers have been paused or ended by the current administration. To continue to close the gender pay gap, regulations must be advanced, not stopped, and the executive branch should take additional action to ensure adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws through sufficient funding and staffing of civil rights enforcement agencies.

Increasingly the business community is demonstrating that they are committed to eliminating the gender pay gap. Many employers want to do the right thing; they just need a little help. Highfliers such as Salesforce, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the Gap are all taking steps to shine a light on the issue and reduce the impact of discrimination. In 2016, the White House launched the Equal Pay Pledge to encourage businesses to take action to advance equal pay by conducting audits, reviewing processes, and embedding equal pay efforts into other initiatives. In less than six months, nearly 100 companies signed the pledge. The initiative turned into the Employers for Pay Equity Consortium, hosted by Simmons College. As of August 2017 more than 50 companies had joined the consortium.

While important, these actions only cover segments of the American working population, and many protections are not yet codified in law. Moreover, there are numerous other reasons for discrimination and pay disparity that must be addressed. That’s why we still need congressional action on the following legislation.

Paycheck Fairness Act: The Paycheck Fairness Act 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.

Pay Equity for All Act: The Pay Equity for All Act would prohibit employers from asking about the wages of a prospective employee before making a job offer.

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.

States can also mirror or exceed federal efforts through their own legislative and executive action. Over the last few years, red, blue, and purple state legislatures all took action to pass important bills seeking to shrink the gender pay gap.

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.