By John W. Miller

Editor’s Note: The Moral Economy is a new series that tackles key economic topics through the prism of Catholic social teaching and its care for the dignity of every person. This is the seventh article in the series.

The gender pay gap, persistent and global, is an evident structural economic injustice—and despite widespread agreement that it deserves immediate remedy, it is proving annoyingly difficult to solve.

For almost 60 years, since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, it has been illegal in the United States to pay men more than women for doing the same job. And yet in 2020, women earned 82.3 percent of what men did in all jobs combined. Put another way: In the United States, women, who make up about half of the population, earn only 40 percent of the gross domestic product. And in the last 25 years, the gender pay gap in the United States has shrunk only eight percentage points.

This economic discrimination hurts almost every family, since many families have grown reliant on the salary earned by working women. Almost three-quarters of mothers in the United States are employed, either full-time or part-time, compared with about half in 1968. And single parents are more likely to be women.

Advocates for working women have won policy victories such as the expansion of child tax credits,better early childhood education and more family leave. But wider economic trends, including the gig economy, the male-dominated high-tech revolution, deindustrialization, aging societies and the decline of unions, have conspired to keep the gap intact.

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