How the Pay Gap Starts

You might look at someone like Lisa and think: She’s 24, a software engineer with a six-figure salary; what’s the big deal if she earns $5,000 less than Joseph? Things will even out, right? Wrong. “The best knowledge we have now is that for a man and a woman who graduate from the same class of university and go into the same field, the wage gap right out the door for her is 7 percent,” says Ariane Hegewisch, program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “And that disadvantage is likely to grow every time she changes jobs because typically her new salary is based on her last one.” By the time a woman reaches her mid forties, the average pay gap has increased to 23 percent, according to government data. (To counter that trend, Massachusetts, in a first for the country, passed a law prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their past salary.) Rose, who at 46 earns nearly 40 percent less than Danilo, regrets not advocating for herself more early on. “Women have to realize their worth and not be afraid to express it,” she says. “That’s my big takeaway.”

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