Imagine you work an entry-level job alongside someone who has less experience than you but still makes more money. Maybe you become a supervisor, yet still take home less pay than the employees you manage. Years go by and you look back on a lifetime of work and realize you lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings.
This is real life for women working in a country with a gender pay gap alive and well. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau illustrate how that gap affects women, who are the primary source of income for 40 percent of American families.
The Big Number
First, there’s the benchmark. In 2013, the typical woman working full time, year-round in the United States earned 78 percent of men’s earnings. That number rose a lousy 1 percent since 2012 — a change that is not significantly different.
This is the point in the story when critics like to stomp all over the 78-cent statistic. Much of what they say is fair: This number doesn’t take into consideration factors like industry, education, and experience. But this number is important because it offers a snapshot of where women stand in making money for their families. And the big pay gap number makes clear that, for whatever reason, women are making less money than men. Period.
Of course AAUW is also interested in the reasons behind the pay gap. That’s why in 2012 we published a report that made an apples-to-apples comparison. We looked at workers one year out of college, when men and women are virtually equal in age, education, and family responsibilities, and we controlled for factors known to affect earnings, such as major, occupation, and hours worked.
Guess what. We still found an unexplainable 7 percent gender pay gap. We know that this gap gets worse with age, affecting both women’s take-home pay and their retirement accounts. (AAUW welcomes people to donate 7 percent of their paycheck to us if they think that’s a small number not worth quibbling over.)
The Race Effect
Race and ethnicity have always created a dividing line in the United States, and it’s no different with the gender pay gap. When a race lens is added to the pay gap, it becomes clear that the pay gap is worse for many women of color. Here’s a look at what women of different races and ethnicities make compared with non-Hispanic white men (a benchmark used because they make up the largest demographic group in the labor force).
Asian American women experience the smallest gender pay gap: In 2013 they took home 90 percent of white men’s earnings (a 3 percent increase from 2012).
The gap is largest for Hispanic and Latina women, who were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2013 (a 1 percent increase from 2012).
The gender pay gap for American Indian and Alaska Native women has widened just slightly since 2012, dropping from 60 to 59 percent in 2013. Similarly, compared with 2012, the gender pay gap for Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women widened by 1 percent to 65 percent.
The gender pay gap held steady for African American women, who were paid 64 percent of what white men were paid in 2013, and for white women, who were paid 78 percent of what white men were paid.
Similar to the 78-percent benchmark, some of these statistics can be explained, to a point, by varying factors. For example, African American women are less likely to graduate from high school or college than their white peers. Lower graduation rates mean that many African American and Hispanic/Latina women enter the workforce with the figurative one hand tied behind their backs.
Still, while education improves take-home pay for everyone, many women of color tend to be paid less than their white peers even when they have the same educational background. This tells us that educational background isn’t the whole story. A possible explanation is discrimination, whether overt or implicit. Both forms of bias can affect take-home pay.
Location, Location, Location: The Pay Gap by State
The old real estate adage also applies to the gender pay gap — where you live has everything to do with the pay gap in your community.
2013 was a big year for Wyoming, which shed its ranking as the state with the worst pay gap. Louisiana, which in 2012 sat just one spot away from worst, has taken its place. Washington, D.C., meanwhile, maintained its supreme rank as the least-bad place for women’s pay. Maryland, however, lost its spot to New York for the state with the smallest pay gap in 2013.
Why does the gap vary so much from state to state? There is no single answer to this question, but there are factors that, taken together, can explain at least some of pay gap.
First, the kinds of industries in a state form part of the answer. As men and women still tend to work in different industries and in different jobs, their opportunities and earnings vary by state.
The sector of the economy can also make a difference. If a state has a large percentage of jobs in the public sector, for example, the pay gap is often narrower.
The age and race/ethnicity of a state’s population play a role as well. The gender pay gap within a single group is widest between white women and white men, while the earnings of black and Hispanic women are closer to those of their male counterparts.
This piece was cross-posted here with permission from AAUW.