Gender Pay Gap Realities

Written by Heather Bussing

April 20, 2022

Gender Pay Gap Realities

The gender pay gap is that women make less than men for the same work.

While the solution is fairly straight forward, pay women the same as men, it's not just a matter of money. Budgets and compensation show what and who we value—or don't. The gender pay gap is a symptom of a larger issue, that our culture still values men more than women.

How big is the gender pay gap?

On average in the US, women make 84 cents for every dollar men make for doing the same work. That means women effectively work 42 days a year without pay compared to their male colleagues. The gap compounds over time as companies give raises as a percent of existing wages. Over a 40 year career making median incomes, a woman would make $407,760 less than a man. A Latina would make $1,121,440 less than a man over her career in the same jobs.

The pay gap varies by state, occupation, age, and education levels. For example, Washington DC, Vermont, and New York have the lowest gender wage gaps, with women earning 8.1 to 11.6% less than men. At the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi, Louisiana, Utah, and Wyoming have the largest gender wage gaps. Women in these states earn between 26.8 and 34.6% less than men. A woman in Wyoming makes 65 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Race also makes a difference. The racial breakdown of average women's earnings compared to men's is:

  • Asian: 90%
  • White: 79%
  • Black: 62%
  • Indigenous: 57%
  • Latina: 54%

The World Economic Forum estimates that globally, if we keep doing what we are currently doing, it will take 136 years to close the gender pay gap. This estimate increased by 36 years—an entire generation—due to the pandemic's job and opportunity losses for women.

What drives the gender pay gap?

Many factors drive the gender pay gap. It also depends on where you look.

Historically, the concept of the man as "breadwinner" comes from 19th Century England where economists asserted there was a necessary gender division where men were "producers" and women were dependent on men to support them. This meant that men's work was more important and more highly valued than women's work. Men needed to make more to support their families. If women worked, they were taking jobs from men who needed them. Even when women entered the workforce during World War I because the men were fighting (and the work still had to be done), the women were forced to quit their jobs so men returning from the war could have them.

Many women could not own property until the mid 1800's. Women could not vote in US elections until 1920. Even then, it was only white women. It wasn't until the women’s movement of the 1970's that women got some power to control their own finances and lives. Women could not get a credit card in their own name until 1974, could not serve on a jury in some states until 1975, and did not have protections against getting fired because they were pregnant until 1978. Sexual harassment did not become illegal until 1980 when it was recognized as a form of gender discrimination by the EEOC. The Supreme Court first recognized sexual harassment as a form of workplace discrimination in 1986.

While women have had legal rights and protections for over 50 years, and women have been the majority of college students for 40 years, the gender pay gap persists.

It's partly because women have historically worked in professions that pay less, and those professions pay less because most of the workers have been women.

The gender pay gap is also due to the biological fact that women give birth and still do the majority of child rearing and household work.

In short, the primary driver of the gender pay gap is outdated beliefs and assumptions about the worth of women in our culture and the fact that women having power, autonomy, and equality is still a relatively new concept. Many of us, including women, are still getting used to it.

The reality is that women are just as smart, creative, talented, and capable as other humans. Gender should be seen as one small attribute like eye color or waviness of your hair. It should not make a difference in your paycheck.

While changing long held, and often unconscious, assumptions about women takes time, making sure they are paid equally can be easy. Monitor pay equity on a regular basis, especially when you're hiring and when attrition is increasing. And regularly review compensation data to understand the market in your industry and area. The numbers will guide you and may even show you that there's more room for improvement than you expected.

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about the author
Heather Bussing is a California employment lawyer and analyst in the HRTech industry. She writes regularly at and loves helping organizations prevent problems and build more human friendly workplaces. She also loves photography and posts a landscape every morning on twitter @heatherbussing.

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