Last Decade Saw Slowest Progress on Closing the Gender Wage Gap in Nearly 40 Years

Press Release

March 7, 2018
Contact: Jennifer Clark | 202-785-5100 |

Washington, DC—In advance of International Women’s Day 2018 on March 8, a new fact sheet by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that the gender wage gap in median weekly earnings* between women and men failed to narrow in the last year. In 2017, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 81.8 percent, down 0.1 percentage point from 81.9 percent in 2016. With median weekly earnings of $941, men earned $171 more per week than women, who earned $770.

The analysis also tracks the slow pace of progress on closing the gender wage gap. In the past ten years (2008 to 2017), the weekly gender wage gap narrowed by just 2.0 percentage points, half as much as in the previous ten years (1998 to 2007), when the gap narrowed by 3.9 percentage points. The past decade saw the slowest rate of progress in narrowing the gender wage gap since 1979, when usual weekly earnings data were first collected.

Women across all major racial and ethnic groups saw little improvement in earnings since last year; only earnings for White women and men grew sufficiently beyond inflation to see a statistically significant improvement. The small increases in earnings for Black and Hispanic women were not sufficient to make a dent in large earnings disparities: Black women’s weekly earnings are only 68 percent of White men’s, and the median weekly earnings for full-time work of Hispanic women—just 62 percent of White men’s—are so low that they would qualify a family of four for food stamps benefits.

The weekly gender earnings ratio is one measure of the gender wage gap. The more commonly cited ratio compares women’s and men’s median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers, which was 80.5 percent in 2016. If the trend in closing the wage gap in annual earnings were to continue at the same rate as it has since 1985, it would take until 2059 for women to receive equal pay. For women of color, the rate of change is much slower: Hispanic women would not see equal pay with White men until 2233—216 years from now—while Black women would wait 107 years until 2124.

Economist and IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. commented on the analysis:

“Equal pay has rightly been a focus of the national conversation in recent years. For all the talk about closing the gender wage gap, there has been far too little action among policymakers to seriously tackle a problem that is not only affecting the size of family paychecks, but is also dampening the growth of the economy. As progress stagnates, we need to ramp up investment in policies that can close the wage gap, especially for women of color, such as access to good jobs, child care, and paid leave, along with reduced employment discrimination and the elimination of workplace harassment.”

*The weekly gender earnings ratio tends to be slightly higher than the annual ratio, as it excludes the self-employed and earnings from annual bonuses and includes full-time workers who work only part of the year. Both the weekly and annual earnings ratios are for full-time workers only; if part-time and part-year workers were included, the ratios of women’s to men’s earnings would be even lower, as women are more likely than men to work reduced schedules, often in order to manage unpaid childrearing and other caregiving work.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in affiliation with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.