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dissertation on gender wage gap

The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap

Table of contents.

The gender pay gap – the difference between the earnings of men and women – has barely closed in the United States in the past two decades. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. That was about the same as in 2002, when they earned 80 cents to the dollar. The slow pace at which the gender pay gap has narrowed this century contrasts sharply with the progress in the preceding two decades: In 1982, women earned just 65 cents to each dollar earned by men.

Line chart showing gender pay gap narrowed in the 1980s and ’90s, but progress has stalled since

There is no single explanation for why progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century. Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time. The pay gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college. In fact, the pay gap between college-educated women and men is not any narrower than the one between women and men who do not have a college degree. This points to the dominant role of other factors that still set women back or give men an advantage.

One of these factors is parenthood. Mothers ages 25 to 44 are less likely to be in the labor force than women of the same age who do not have children at home, and they tend to work fewer hours each week when employed. This can reduce the earnings of some mothers, although evidence suggests the effect is either modest overall or short-lived for many. On the other hand, fathers are more likely to be in the labor force – and to work more hours each week – than men without children at home. This is linked to an increase in the pay of fathers – a phenomenon referred to as the “ fatherhood wage premium ” – and tends to widen the gender pay gap.

Related: Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn’t changed much in two decades

Family needs can also influence the types of jobs women and men pursue , contributing to gender segregation across occupations. Differential treatment of women, including gender stereotypes and discrimination , may also play a role. And the gender wage gap varies widely by race and ethnicity.

Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand how women’s pay compared with men’s pay in the U.S. in the economic aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak .

The study is based on the analysis of monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) data from January 1982 to December 2022 monthly files ( IPUMS ). The CPS is the U.S. government’s official source for monthly estimates of unemployment . For a quarter of the sample each month, the CPS also records data on usual hourly earnings for hourly workers and usual weekly earnings and hours worked for other workers. In this report, monthly CPS files were combined to create annual files to boost sample sizes and to analyze the gender pay gap in greater detail.

The comparison between women’s and men’s pay is based on their median hourly earnings. For workers who are not hourly workers, hourly earnings were computed as the ratio of usual weekly earnings to usual weekly hours worked. The samples include employed workers ages 16 and older with positive earnings, working full time or part time, including those for whom earnings were imputed by the Census Bureau . Self-employed workers are excluded because their earnings are not recorded in the CPS.

The COVID-19 outbreak affected data collection efforts by the U.S. government in its surveys, especially in 2020 and 2021, limiting in-person data collection and affecting the response rate. It is possible that some measures of economic outcomes and how they vary across demographic groups are affected by these changes in data collection.

“Mothers” and “fathers” refer to women and men 16 and older who have an own child younger than 18 living in the household.

The U.S. labor force, used interchangeably with the workforce in this analysis, consists of people 16 and older who are either employed or actively looking for work.

White, Black and Asian workers include those who report being only one race and who are not Hispanic. Hispanics are of any race. Asian workers include Pacific Islanders. Other racial and ethnic groups are included in all totals but are not shown separately.

“High school graduate” refers to those who have a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a General Education Development (GED) certificate, and those who had completed 12th grade, but their diploma status was unclear (those who had finished 12th grade but not received a diploma are excluded). “Some college” include workers with an associate degree and those who attended college but did not obtain a degree.

How the gender pay gap increases with age

Younger women – those ages 25 to 34 and early in their work lives – have edged closer to wage parity with men in recent years. Starting in 2007, their earnings have consistently stood at about 90 cents to the dollar or more compared with men of the same age. But even as pay parity might appear in reach for women at the start of their careers, the wage gap tends to increase as they age.

Line chart showing as women age, their pay relative to the pay of men of the same age decreases

Consider, for example, women who were ages 25 to 34 in 2010. In that year, they earned 92% as much as men their age, compared with 83% for women overall. But by 2022, this group of women, now ages 37 to 46, earned only 84% as much as men of the same age. This pattern repeats itself for groups of women who were ages 25 to 34 in earlier years – say, 2005 or 2000 – and it may well be the future for women entering the workforce now.

Dot plot showing women’s pay relative to men’s drops most sharply around ages 35 to 44

A good share of the increase in the gender pay gap takes place when women are between the ages of 35 and 44. In 2022, women ages 25 to 34 earned about 92% as much as men of the same ages, but women ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 earned 83% as much. The ratio dropped to 79% among those ages 55 to 64. This general pattern has not changed in at least four decades.

The increase in the pay gap coincides with the age at which women are more likely to have children under 18 at home. In 2022, 40% of employed women ages 25 to 34 had at least one child at home. The same was true for 66% of women ages 35 to 44 but for fewer – 39% – among women ages 45 to 54. Only 6% of employed women ages 55 to 64 had children at home in 2022.

Similarly, the share of employed men with children at home peaks between the ages of 35 to 44, standing at 58% in 2022. This is also when fathers tend to receive higher pay, even as the pay of employed mothers in same age group is unaffected.

Mothers with children at home tend to be less engaged with the workplace, while fathers are more active

Parenthood leads some women to put their careers on hold, whether by choice or necessity, but it has the opposite effect among men. In 2022, 70% of mothers ages 25 to 34 had a job or were looking for one, compared with 84% of women of the same age without children at home. This amounted to the withdrawal of 1.4 million younger mothers from the workforce. Moreover, when they are employed, younger mothers tend to put in a shorter workweek – by two hours per week, on average – than other women their age. Reduced engagement with the workplace among younger mothers is also a long-running phenomenon.

Dot plot showing younger mothers are less active in the workplace than women without kids at home; fathers are more active

Fathers, however, are more likely to hold a job or be looking for one than men who don’t have children at home, and this is true throughout the prime of their working years , from ages 25 to 54. Among those who do have a job, fathers also work a bit more each week, on average, than men who do not have children at home.

Dot plit showing mothers work fewer hours at jobs than women without kids at home; fathers work more

As a result, the gender gap in workplace activity is greater among those who have children at home than among those who do not. For example, among those ages 35 to 44, 94% of fathers are active in the workforce, compared with 75% of mothers – a gap of 19 percentage points. But among those with no children at home in this age group, 84% of men and 78% of women are active in the workforce – a gap of 6 points.

These patterns contribute to the gap in workplace activity between men and women overall. As of 2022, 68% of men ages 16 and older – with or without children at home – are either employed or seeking employment. That compares with 57% of women, a difference of 11 percentage points. This gap was as wide as 24 points in 1982, but it narrowed to 14 points by 2002. Men overall also worked about three hours more per week at a job than women in 2022, on average, down from a gap of about six hours per week in 1982.

Employed mothers earn about the same as similarly educated women without children at home; both groups earn less than fathers

Parenthood affects the hourly earnings of employed women and men in unexpected ways. While employed mothers overall appear to earn less than employed women without children at home, the gap is driven mainly by differences in educational attainment between the two groups. Among women with similar levels of education, there is little gap in the earnings of mothers and non-mothers. However, fathers earn more than other workers, including other men without children at home, regardless of education level. This phenomenon – known as the fatherhood wage premium – is one of the main ways that parenthood affects the gender pay gap among employed workers.

dissertation on gender wage gap

Among employed men and women, the impact of parenting is felt most among those ages 25 to 54, when they are most likely to have children under 18 at home. In 2022, mothers ages 25 to 34 earned 85% as much as fathers that age, but women without children at home earned 97% as much as fathers. In contrast, employed women ages 35 to 44 – with or without children – both earned about 80% as much as fathers. The table turns for women ages 45 to 54, with mothers earning more than women with no children at home. Among those ages 35 to 44 or 45 to 54, men without children earned only 84% as much as fathers.

Bar chart showing others earn about as much as women with no children at home who have the same level of education

When the earnings of mothers are compared with those of women without children at home who have the same level of education, the differences either narrow or go away. Among employed women ages 25 to 34 with at least a bachelor’s degree, both mothers and women without children at home earned 80% as much as fathers in 2022. Among women ages 25 to 34 with a high school diploma and no further education, mothers earned 79% as much as fathers and women with no children at home earned 84% as much. The narrowing of the gap in earnings of mothers and women without children at home after controlling for education level also extends to other age groups.

Thus, among the employed, the effect of parenthood on the gender pay gap does not seem to be driven by a decrease in mothers’ earnings relative to women without children at home. Instead, the widening of the pay gap with parenthood appears to be driven more by an increase in the earnings of fathers. Fathers ages 25 to 54 not only earn more than mothers the same age, they also earn more than men with no children at home. Nonetheless, men without children at home still earn more than women with or without children at home.

Although there is little gap in the earnings of employed mothers and women with no children at home who have the same level of education, there is a lingering gap in workplace engagement between the two groups. Whether they had at least a bachelor’s degree or were high school graduates, mothers ages 25 to 34 are less likely to hold a job or be looking for one. Similarly, younger mothers on average work fewer hours than women without children at home each week, regardless of their education level. The opposite is true for fathers compared with men without children at home.

Progress in closing the gender pay gap has slowed despite gains in women’s education

Line chart showing women are more likely than men to hold at least a bachelor’s degree

The share of women with at least a bachelor’s degree has increased steadily since 1982 – and faster than among men. In 1982, 20% of employed women ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education, compared with 26% of employed men. By 2022, 48% of employed women had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 41% of men. Still, women did not see the pay gap close to the same extent from 2002 to 2022 as they did from 1982 to 2002.

In part, this may be linked to how the gains from going to college have changed in recent decades, for women and men alike. The college wage premium – the boost in earnings workers get from a college degree – increased rapidly during the 1980s. But the rise in the premium slowed down over time and came to a halt around 2010. This likely reduced the relative growth in the earnings of women.

Dot plot showing women with a bachelor’s degree face about the same pay gap as other women

Although gains in education have raised the average earnings of women and have narrowed the gender pay gap overall, college-educated women are no closer to wage parity with their male counterparts than other women. In 2022, women with at least a bachelor’s degree earned 79% as much as men who were college graduates, and women who were high school graduates earned 81% as much as men with the same level of education. This underscores the challenges faced by women of all education levels in closing the pay gap.

Notably, the gender wage gap has closed more among workers without a four-year college degree than among those who do have a bachelor’s degree or more education. For example, the wage gap for women without a high school diploma narrowed from 62% in 1982 to 83% in 2022 relative to men at the same education level. But it closed only from 69% to 79% among bachelor’s degree holders over the same period. This is because only men with at least a bachelor’s degree experienced positive wage growth from 1982 to 2022; all other men saw their real wages decrease. Meanwhile, the real earnings of women increased regardless of their level of education.

Dot plot showing women and men tend to work in different occupations, but some differences have narrowed since 1982

As women have improved their level of education in recent decades, they’ve also increased their share of employment in higher-paying occupations, such as managerial, business and finance, legal, and computer, science and engineering (STEM) occupations. In 1982, women accounted for only 26% of employment in managerial occupations. By 2022, their share had risen to 40%. Women also substantially increased their presence in social, arts and media occupations. Over the same period, the shares of women in several lower-paying fields, such as administrative support jobs and food preparation and serving occupations, fell significantly.

Even so, women are still underrepresented in managerial and STEM occupations – along with construction, repair and production, and transportation occupations – when compared with their share of employment overall. And there has been virtually no change in the degree to which women are over represented in education, health care, and personal care and services occupations – the last of which are lower paying than the average across all occupations. The distribution of women and men across occupations remains one of the drivers of the gender pay gap . But the degree to which this distribution is the result of personal choices or gender stereotypes is not entirely clear.

Gender pay gap differs widely by race and ethnicity

Looking across racial and ethnic groups, a wide gulf separates the earnings of Black and Hispanic women from the earnings of White men. 3 In 2022, Black women earned 70% as much as White men and Hispanic women earned only 65% as much. The ratio for White women stood at 83%, about the same as the earnings gap overall, while Asian women were closer to parity with White men, making 93% as much.

Dot plot showing Black and Hispanic women experience the largest gender wage gap

The pay gap narrowed for all groups of women from 1982 to 2022, but more so for White women than for Black and Hispanic women. The earnings gap for Asian women narrowed by about 17 percentage points from 2002 to 2022, but data for this group is not available for 1982.

To some extent, the gender wage gap varies by race and ethnicity because of differences in education, experience, occupation and other factors that drive the gender wage gap for women overall. But researchers have uncovered new evidence of hiring discrimination against various racial and ethnic groups, along with discrimination against other groups, such as LGBTQ and disabled workers. Discrimination in hiring may feed into differences in earnings by shutting out workers from opportunities.

Broader economic forces may impact men’s and women’s earnings in different ways

Changes in the gender pay gap are also shaped by economic factors that sometimes drive men’s and women’s earnings in distinctive ways. Because men and women tend to work in different types of jobs and industries, their earnings may respond differently to external pressures.

Line chart showing the growth in women’s earnings has slowed in the past two decades

More specifically, men’s earnings essentially didn’t change from 1982 to 2002. Potential reasons for that include a more rapid decline in union membership among men, a shift away from jobs calling for more physical skills, and global competition that sharply reduced employment in manufacturing in the 1980s. At the same time, women’s earnings increased substantially as they raised their level of education and shifted toward higher-paying occupations.

But in some ways, the economic climate has proved less favorable for women this century. For reasons that are not entirely clear, women’s employment was slower to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009. More recently, the COVID-19 recession took on the moniker “ she-cession ” because of the pressure on jobs disproportionately held by women . Amid a broader slowdown in earnings growth from 2000 to 2015, the increase in women’s earnings from 2002 to 2022 was not much greater than the increase in men’s earnings, limiting the closure in the gender pay gap over the period.

What’s next for the gender pay gap?

Higher education, a shift to higher-paying occupations and more labor market experience have helped women narrow the gender pay gap since 1982. But even as women have continued to outpace men in educational attainment, the pay gap has been stuck in a holding pattern since 2002, ranging from 80 to 85 cents to the dollar.

More sustained progress in closing the pay gap may depend on deeper changes in societal and cultural norms and in workplace flexibility that affect how men and women balance their careers and family lives . Even in countries that have taken the lead in implementing family-friendly policies, such as Denmark, parenthood continues to drive a significant wedge in the earnings of men and women. New research suggests that family-friendly policies in the U.S. may be keeping the pay gap from closing. Gender stereotypes and discrimination, though difficult to quantify, also appear to be among the “last-mile” hurdles impeding further progress.

dissertation on gender wage gap

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The Impact of Gender and Racial Inequality On Women Workers

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dissertation on gender wage gap

As breadwinners, workers, and caregivers, women of color have been the longtime yet unsung backbone of the U.S. economy. This integral role has been front and center during the devastating COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked economic havoc in every corner of the country and continues to have lingering effects. Not only has the United States relied on women of color as essential workers to help keep the economy running, provide much-needed services, and sustain families throughout the pandemic, but it has also watched these women shoulder disproportionate job losses and caregiving challenges—all while they are earning just a fraction of what their white and male counterparts earn.

The stubborn resilience of the gender wage gap, coupled with intersecting racial bias in the workplace, means that many women of color are perpetually underpaid, and these losses accumulate and grow over time. As a result, women of color are less able to build savings, withstand economic downturns, and achieve some measure of economic stability. The U.S. census data released in September confirmed that the harshest effects of the gender wage gap continue to fall on women of color, 1 with many of them experiencing the largest gender pay gaps among all workers. It is long overdue for the federal government to pursue measures that strengthen equal pay protections, combat bias, and promote worker retention—especially among women workers—which are all critical to reducing economic inequality and securing economic stability for women of color and their families.

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Occupational Segregation in America

Mar 29, 2022

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This issue brief examines the gender wage gaps experienced by women of different racial and ethnic groups, explores some of the factors driving those gaps, and recommends policy solutions that Congress and the Biden administration must implement to help narrow these gaps.

Analyzing the gender wage gaps for women of color

The gender wage gap is an important measure for evaluating gender equity in wages and workplaces overall. The data consistently show that women of color experience persistent economic inequality in part because they have the largest gaps in wages when compared with their male counterparts. This is largely driven by the undervaluation of work predominantly supplied by women, combined with other forms of bias. The wage gap number that often receives the most public attention is the overall ratio of women’s to men’s earnings among full-time, year-round workers 2 —just 83 cents for women for every $1 earned by men in 2020. 3 But this aggregate number provides an incomplete picture because it treats women as a monolith and obscures the vastly different economic realities experienced by many women of color. The intersection of race, ethnicity, and gender has always had compounding effects, and these effects most often exacerbate and widen the wage gap. 4 Simply put, there has never been a time in this country when there has not been a wage gap that exists along intersecting gender and racial lines.

There has never been a time in this country when there has not been a wage gap that exists along intersecting gender and racial lines.

When looking at women’s wages across broad racial and ethnic categories among full-time, year-round workers, Hispanic women experience the largest pay gap, having earned just 57 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020. (see Figure 1) Black women also experience wide pay gaps, with data on Black women alone revealing that—despite consistently having some of the highest labor force participation rates 5 —they earned just 64 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020. This number dips slightly to 63 cents, reflecting a slightly larger wage gap, when data on multiracial Black women—meaning Black women who also identify with another racial category—are included in the analysis. The data that include multiracial Black women are referred to as data on Black women alone or in combination. These gaps for Hispanic and Black women are much wider than the still-large gap experienced by white, non-Hispanic women, who earned 79 cents for every $1 earned by their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts in 2020.

Native American women, historically, have also experienced a sizable wage gap, but an up-to-date analysis is difficult because the data for 2020 are currently not available. Looking at 2019 data, Native women earned only 60 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men. 6 The data on Asian women also require a more nuanced analysis to gain a complete picture. Overall, the data for Asian women alone indicate that they earned $1.01 for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020. When multiracial Asian women are included (referred to as Asian women alone or in combination), they earned 98 cents. However, these 2020 numbers hide a more complex story 7 about the rich diversity within the Asian community. First, the data are not comprehensive because the statistics do not include Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women, who tend to be among the women with lower earnings in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community; the relevant 2020 data for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women are not currently available. Second, when utilizing data from prior years to dive deeper and disaggregate wage gap data into subpopulations, there are significant differences in earnings ratios among women who belong to different Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander subpopulations when compared with white, non-Hispanic men. For example, looking cumulatively at data from 2015 to 2019, Chinese women earned $1.03 for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men, while Nepali women earned just $0.54. (see Figure 2) This variation in the wage gap is due in part to occupational segregation—with various Asian subpopulations concentrated in low-wage occupations and others in high-wage occupations—which is itself driven by differences in culture, immigration patterns, and generational wealth, as well as intersecting gender, racial, and ethnic biases. 8

A gender pay gap amounts to more than just a few cents lost; it compounds over time, leading to significant long-term disparities for women of color. Over the course of a 40-year career, Black women lose an estimated $964,400 to the wage gap, Native American women lose $986,240, Hispanic women lose $1,163,920, and AAPI women lose $400,000—but likely with significant differences among subpopulations. 9

The wage gaps for women of color are calculated using white, non-Hispanic men as the benchmark for comparison because they historically have had the highest wages; held the majority of the positions of power and leadership within workplace and institutional settings; and reflected the dominant perception of the most valuable worker in a society where racial, ethnic, and gender biases continue to exist and influence attitudes about work. White, non-Hispanic men workers also tend to shoulder fewer caregiving responsibilities than women, especially women of color. 10 Further, it has historically been white people—particularly white, heterosexual cisgender men—whose needs and interests have consistently been prioritized over basically all others, including those of women and people of color. 11 By instead centering and prioritizing women of color, policymakers can pinpoint some of the widest economic disparities, target policy interventions, and lift all boats along the way. Closing the gender wage gap is not zero-sum.

The gender wage gap in 2020 through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic

The latest gender wage gap figures of the overall ratio of women’s to men’s earnings among full-time, year-round workers—83 cents in 2020—are a very slight reduction from 82 cents in 2020. 12 However, this metric masks the considerable disruption to the economic participation and security of women, and particularly women of color, in 2020. The sizable job losses among women in the low-paid services sector meant that their wages were not counted in the wage gap analysis, likely making the overall gap smaller than it would have been if more lower-paid workers were counted.

Every year, the gender wage gap is calculated by finding the ratio of women’s to men’s median earnings for full-time, year-round workers and then taking the difference. This means that by definition, the gender wage gap fails to capture the experiences of those who do not work both full-time and year-round. While this is always an issue with this metric, it is a particular problem for 2020 given the COVID-19 pandemic’s unprecedented disruption to the labor market. Compared with 2019, the number of women and men full-time, year-round workers declined by 13.7 million, with women of color, particularly Hispanic and Asian women, experiencing some of the largest declines as a proportion of their 2019 employment figures. (see Figure 3) In 2020, job losses and reductions in hours worked were concentrated in low-wage jobs, 13 which, due to occupational segregation, are disproportionately occupied by women of color. 14 Basically, with fewer low-wage women counted in the gender wage gap, it has slightly reduced.

Drivers of the gender wage gaps for women of color

Numerous factors drive the pay differences manifested in the gender wage gap. Groundbreaking research by economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn estimated that 62 percent of the wage gap could be explained by factors including, but not limited to, differences in industries or jobs worked, differences in hours worked, and differences in years of experience. 15 However, the remaining 38 percent of the gap is not easily explained by such distinct, quantifiable factors. Blau and Kahn, as well as other researchers, attribute this remaining portion of the gap to factors such as the effects of discrimination. 16 Women of color, whose intersectional realities can spur multiple forms of discrimination, may experience a larger pay gap in part because they face a combination of biases with escalating effects. Below is an examination of three major drivers of the gender wage gaps for women of color: jobs worked, hours worked, and discrimination.

Jobs worked

Women of color disproportionately work in jobs within the service, care, and domestic work sectors—jobs with historically low pay. This is due to occupational segregation, which is the funneling of women and men into different jobs based on gender and racial norms and expectations. Jobs that have historically had majority-women workforces, such as registered nurses and maids and housekeeping cleaners, tend to offer lower pay and fewer benefits, in part by virtue of being “women’s work.” 17 The jobs women of color are most likely to work in largely follow this pattern. (see Figure 4)

In addition, women of color are significantly overrepresented in the low-wage workforce compared with their share of the overall workforce: Latinas’ share of the low-paid workforce is more than twice as large as their share of the overall workforce; Native American women’s share is two times as large; Black women’s share is 1.5 times as large; and AAPI women’s share is 1.3 times as large. 18

The argument that women of color simply choose to work in jobs with low pay and few benefits vastly oversimplifies how women of color end up in the jobs that they hold. Where choice may be involved, jobs in the service and care industries may be the jobs most readily available. These jobs, with work shifts at different times of the day and night, may enable women to cobble together multiple jobs around their schedules to ensure that they can cover their own caregiving responsibilities, which women of color disproportionately shoulder. In addition, occupational segregation and the clustering of women of color into certain types of roles is fueled by longstanding structural and cultural biases that embrace narrowly defined job pathways for women of color, stalling their upward mobility and access to the highest-paying occupations and industries. And while education can help narrow the gender wage gap somewhat, it is not the silver bullet that many think it is. At every level of educational attainment, women still experience a pay gap compared with their men counterparts. 19 Women also hold two-thirds of the nation’s outstanding student loan debt, and Black women hold the most of any group—further limiting their economic security. 20

Hours worked

Women of color tend to work fewer hours of paid work and are more likely to work part time to accommodate caregiving and other unpaid obligations. Both factors contribute to the wage gap because they translate to women of color earning lower hourly wages than full-time workers and men. Women of color are slightly less likely than white women to work 45 hours or more per week and are nearly half as likely as men to do so. (see Figure 5)

The hours of paid work by women of color are also connected to the unpaid hours that they must spend managing the majority of their family’s caregiving responsibilities. Part-time and other flexible work arrangements can be essential to making this work. But in addition to low pay, these jobs often feature unpredictable schedules that can present caregiving challenges and/or lost wages when shifts are adjusted or canceled at the last minute. Further, these jobs often lack essential work-family policies such as paid family and medical leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 guarantees eligible workers 12 weeks of leave, or 26 weeks of leave to care for military service members, but this leave is unpaid. Just 57 percent of Black workers, 53 percent of Asian workers, 52 percent of Hispanic workers, and 53 percent of nonwhite workers belonging to a different race are eligible for the FMLA. 21 Finally, there is the issue of finding child care. In the United States, 1 in 2 families live in a child care desert, or areas with an insufficient supply of licensed child care—with even higher rates for Hispanic families and American Indian and Alaska Native families. 22 The coronavirus pandemic may be worsening these deserts for Black and Hispanic families in particular. 23

At the same time, women of color are increasingly their families’ breadwinners, meaning that families of color depend on these mothers’ earnings to survive. 24 Sixty-eight percent of Black mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners for their families—the highest rate of any racial group. 25 For Native American mothers, the rate of primary or sole breadwinners is 55 percent, for multiracial mothers it’s 53 percent, and for Latinas it’s 41 percent. 26 White mothers and AAPI mothers are the least likely to be primary or sole breadwinners for their families at 37 percent and 30 percent, respectively. 27 These breadwinners, like many women workers more broadly, must manage both the financial and care needs of their families while also navigating low pay and other workplace inequities.


Many factors that contribute to the gender wage gap, including jobs and hours worked, can be directly and indirectly influenced by discrimination. Sexism, racism, and other forms of bias individually or in combination can influence the industries where women of color are welcomed and the hiring decisions that are made. These same forces also place the brunt of caregiving, housework, and other unpaid responsibilities disproportionately on women, particularly women of color. So, while Blau and Kahn’s estimates are extremely helpful for understanding the underlying causes of the gender wage gap, it is essential to recognize the outsize impacts of bias and discrimination at play that likely drive more than just the estimated 38 percent of the gender wage gap. This is especially true for women of color, who experience biases and discrimination at the intersection of multiple identities, including but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, motherhood status, and immigration status.

How to narrow the gender wage gaps for women of color

At the current pace and without further and comprehensive action on equal pay, Black and Hispanic women in the United States are not projected to reach pay parity with white men until 2133 and 2220, respectively. 28 To begin to close these gender wage gaps, Congress, the Biden administration, and other policymakers must take strong, concerted action to promote equal pay.

President Joe Biden gives remarks in Statuary Hall of the U.S Capitol.

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Congress must finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, 29 long-overdue equal pay legislation that will strengthen existing protections and further combat discriminatory practices. The robust and comprehensive bill will increase prohibitions on retaliation against workers who discuss their pay or challenge pay discrimination; limit employers’ reliance on salary history, which can perpetuate existing gender pay gaps; require employer collection of pay data disaggregated by race and ethnicity, and more. The Biden-Harris administration has taken important steps forward to increase federal investments in equal pay enforcement and should take additional steps to relaunch the White House Equal Pay Task Force, reinstate federal pay data collection efforts, and more. 30 Meanwhile, state and local leaders must continue to lead the way with progressive actions on equal pay, including, but not limited to, laws that require employers to post salary ranges for job openings, limitations on employer reliance on salary history, and mandated employer reporting of pay data. 31

Other complementary policies are also needed to narrow the gender wage gap. These include robust work-family policies in the reconciliation package, such as providing comprehensive paid family and medical leave and affordable child care. 32 In addition, policies that support collective organizing, including the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, must be advanced given evidence that unionization can help narrow gender wage gaps within a workplace. 33 Finally, it is critical to explore new ways to combat entrenched racism, sexism, and other biases that continue to harm women of color. Only then can America truly close the gender wage gap for all women in this country.

Certain drivers of the gender wage gap have been front and center during the pandemic and economic recovery, such as reduced hours, prolonged time out of the workforce to manage caregiving responsibilities, and ever-present discrimination and bias. Pandemic or not, women of color—indeed, all workers—deserve to be valued and compensated fairly. Simply put, however, they never have been.

The significantly wider gender wage gaps for most women of color indicate just how much further they must go to reach economic, racial, and gender equity. It is essential to intentionally center women of color in discussions about the economy, earnings, and the wage gap to ensure that their experiences are not only recognized but also that the inequities they experience are remedied. As breadwinners, workers, and caregivers, women of color are instrumental in keeping the U.S. economy afloat. It’s about time they have equal pay.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here . American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Robin Bleiweis

Research Associate, Women’s Economic Security

Jocelyn Frye

Senior Fellow

Rose Khattar

Director of Economic Analysis, Inclusive Economy

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