150 Years Later, Pay Gap Still Hurts Children

One Pagers

By Susan Green, IWPR Affiliated Researcher

Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, has long been an issue in the United States. An 1869 Letter to the Editor of The New York Times questioned the fairness of the Treasury Department paying female clerks less than one-half the salary of men doing the same work. The women workers were not the only ones to suffer: “Most of them, too, have families to support; being, nearly all, either widows or orphans made by the [Civil] war.”

Nearly 150 years later, the gender pay gap continues to exert a pernicious impact on children and families. IWPR recently prepared a briefing paper for LeanIn.Org and its #20PercentCounts, a campaign designed to raise awareness of unequal pay. The paper identifies dramatic gains accruing to families if the pay gap were eliminated.

If working women were paid the same as men of the same age, with similar education and hours of work, who have the same urban/rural status and live in the same region of the country,

  • Nearly two-thirds of working single mothers – 4.7 million — would get a pay raise;
  • Roughly 26 million children would benefit from their mothers’ higher earnings;
  • More than 2.5 million children with a working mother would be lifted out of poverty.
  • Nearly 2 million children of working single mothers would be lifted out of poverty.

Wiping out the pay gap would also benefit working women with no children or other dependents. Roughly 15.3 million working American women — including divorced, widowed, separated, and never-married women — live independently of other family members. These single working women would earn an average of $6,613 more per year if they were paid the same as comparable men — a total pay raise of over $100 billion. The poverty rate among single women would drop by more than half, from 10.8 percent to 4.4 percent.

Unfortunately, progress toward pay equity continues to be slow. In 2015, women working full-time, year-round earned just 80 cents for every dollar that men earned. At this rate, women will not achieve equal pay until 2059.  Women of color will have to wait a century or more. Latinas will not reach pay equity with white men until 2248; Black women will achieve that goal in 2124.

Despite these inequities, women’s earnings are increasingly important for their families’ economic stability. Half of all American households with children under 18 have a breadwinner mother, i.e., a single mother who heads a household or a married mother who provides at least 40 percent of the couple’s joint earnings. And many women without children, both single and married, work to support themselves and other family members.   The enduring gender pay gap thus will continue to have an impact on daily life for generations of American children and families.