The Gender Wage Gap Is Shrinking—but Not for the Reasons You Might Expect
From Patricia Arquette’s rallying cry at the Oscars to Jennifer Lawrence’s candid essay last month, pay equality has garnered a wave of support this year, with celebrities sounding an alarm for the discrepancy between men’s and women’s earnings, not just in Hollywood but in nearly every industry around the country.
While the gender wage gap has narrowed considerably in the last 35 years, economic progress has more to do with men’s shrinking wages and overall income inequality than with women’s advances in the workplace—and that’s not good for anyone, according to a study released this week by the nonprofit think tank Economic Policy Institute.
“Allowing low- and moderate-wage men to lose economic ground is not the right way to close the gender wage gap,” said Elise Gould, the group’s senior economist. “There is plenty of room in our economy to close the gender wage gap while raising both men’s and women’s wages significantly.”
Researchers found that the gender wage gap existed at every education level and in the majority of occupations, with the largest disparity among top earners. In 2014, the median hourly wage of American women was just over $15, or about 82.9 percent of men’s median earnings, with black and Hispanic women garnering just 65 and 60 percent, respectively, of white men’s total salary, according to the EPI. On the whole, today’s figures are a jump up from the late 1970s, when women earned a median of 62.7 percent of men’s earnings.
The report comes a month after California Gov. Jerry Brown passed the Fair Pay Act, which ensures that men and women who perform substantially similar work for the same company, regardless of their job title, are entitled to equal pay. In March, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut reintroduced into Congress the Paycheck Fairness Act, an amendment to the federal Equal Pay Act that mandates that wage rates must not be based on gender and would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss pay. The bill was blocked for the fourth time in September 2014.
The EPI also estimated that reducing the unemployment rate—which is currently at 5 percent, the lowest rate since 2008—would dramatically increase salaries for low-wage workers. The group advocated for raising the minimum wage, which it estimated women would disproportionately benefit from, as they dominate low-wage occupations including child care, housekeeping, and food service. Of the proportion of workers who would experience a raise if the federal minimum wage were raised to $12 by 2020, nearly 40 percent were single mothers, the researchers said.