The gender pay gap in the U.S. persists, and in fact, has barely budged during the past two decades, even as recent initiatives have tried to target the difference in earnings between men and women, according to a March 1 report from the Pew Research Center.
Among other things, more flexible work and changes to cultural norms will be necessary to close that gap, researchers said.
In 2022, women earned about 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, which has improved slightly from the 80 cents on the dollar that women earned in 2002. However, the slow progress contrasts sharply with the two decades before that, when women made major gains from the 65 cents per dollar earned in 1982.
“There is no single explanation for why progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century,” Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher at Pew, wrote in the report.
“Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time,” he wrote. “The pay gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college.”
In fact, he added, the pay gap between college-educated women and men isn’t any narrower than the one between women and men who don’t have a degree. That means other factors contribute to the gap — including parenthood, age and race and ethnicity.
In recent years, younger women ages 25-34 who are early in their careers have closed some of the gap. Around 2017, their earnings shifted toward 90 cents to the dollar when compared with men in that age group. Even still, the gap tends to increase with age.
The widening in the gender pay gap usually occurs when women are between ages 35-44, when women are more likely to have children under 18 at home. Although more employed men also have children at home between 35-44, they tend to receive higher pay for various reasons.
In addition, the Pew report found, mothers with children at home tend to put their careers on hold and become less engaged with the workplace. The opposite is true for men.
In 2022, for example, 70% of mothers between ages 25-34 had a job or were looking for one, as compared with 84% of women in the same age group who didn’t have children. This means about 1.4 million younger mothers withdrew from the workforce, according to Pew. Younger mothers also tended to have shorter workweeks than other women their age, while fathers were more likely to have a job than other men their age — and also work more each week.
Beyond that, the gender pay gap differs widely by race and ethnicity. In 2022, Black women earned 70% as much as White men, and Hispanic women earned 65% as much as White men. The ratio for White women was about 83%, according to Pew, while Asian women were closer to wage parity at 93%.
Between 1982 and 2022, the pay gap narrowed for all women — but even more for White women than for Black or Hispanic women. Although some factors contribute to this, such as differences in education, experience and occupation, research shows evidence of hiring discrimination against racial and ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ and disabled workers, Pew reported.
Moving forward, closing the pay gap will require changes to societal and cultural norms, as well as workplace flexibility in balancing careers with family life, the report said. Higher education, higher-paying occupations and more labor market experience have helped women to narrow the gap since 1982, but it has been stuck between 80-85 cents to the dollar since 2002.
“Even in countries that have taken the lead in implementing family-friendly policies, such as Denmark, parenthood continues to drive a significant wedge in the earnings of men and women,” Kochhar wrote. “New research suggests that family-friendly policies in the U.S. may be keeping the pay gap from closing. Gender stereotypes and discrimination, though difficult to quantify, also appear to be among the ‘last-mile’ hurdles impeding further progress.”