The commonly used figure to describe the gender wage ratio—that a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man—understates the pay inequality problem by leaving many women workers out of the picture. This report argues that a multi-year analysis provides a more comprehensive picture of the gender wage gap and presents a more accurate measure of the income women actually bring home to support themselves and their families.
- Women today earn just 49 cents to the typical men’s dollar, much less than the 80 cents usually reported. When measured by total earnings across the most recent 15 years for all workers who worked in at least one year, women workers’ earnings were 49 percent—less than half—of men’s earnings, a wage gap of 51 percent in 2015. Progress has slowed in the last 15 years relative to the preceding 30 years in the study.
- The penalties of taking time out of the labor force are high—and increasing. For those who took just one year off from work, women’s annual earnings were 39 percent lower than women who worked all 15 years between 2001 and 2015, a much higher cost than women faced in the time period beginning in 1968, when one year out of work resulted in a 12 percent cut in earnings. While men are also penalized for time out of the workforce, women’s earnings losses for time out are almost always greater than men’s.
- Strengthening women’s labor force attachment is critical to narrowing the gender wage gap. Despite considerable progress over the last 50 years, 43 percent of today’s women workers had at least one year with no earnings, nearly twice the rate of men. With high penalties for weak labor force attachment, achieving higher lifetime earnings for women will require strengthening women’s attachment to the labor force. Research has shown that such policies as paid family and medical leave and affordable child care, can increase women’s labor force participation and encourage men to share more of the unpaid time spent on family care.
- Strengthening enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies and Title IX in education is also crucial to narrowing the gender wage gap further. Improved enforcement will help women enter higher paying fields that are now, despite decades of progress, still too often off-limits to women.