Women’s earnings are crucial to their families’ economic well-being. Women are close to half of all employees in the United States, they are half of all workers with college degrees, and they are the co- or main breadwinners in close to two thirds of families with children,1 yet they persistently earn less than men. Whether the gender wage gap is measured based on annual, weekly or hourly earnings, within or across occupations, women’s median earnings are lower than men’s. If progress toward closing the gender wage gap continues at the same pace as during recent decades, women and men will not reach equal pay until 2058 (Hess et al. 2015).

This briefing paper sets out the basic facts about the gender wage gap, summarizing data on earnings differences between women and men by race and ethnicity, education, and occupation. It then discusses reasons for the gender wage gap, its consequences for women and their families, and policies that can help to close it.