Facts & Figures: Women and Pay Inequality

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Today is Equal Pay Day, chosen as April 8, the symbolic date when women’s wages catch up to men’s from the previous year. Today is also the day that President Obama, lacking support from Congress on equal pay measures, signed an executive order barring federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with one another. He also directed the Labor Department to adopt rules requiring federal contractors to provide compensation data based on sex and race.

“Pay secrecy fosters discrimination, and we should not tolerate it, not in federal contracting or anywhere else,” Obama said at the signing. He was joined at the White House by Lilly Ledbetter, whose name appears on a pay discrimination law Obama signed in 2009. 

Some dismiss the gender pay gap as due to women’s occupational and lifestyle choices, but data analysis by labor economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn concluded that over 40 percent of the pay gap cannot be explained by such differences. To understand why this really outrages women and enlightened men, have a look at the depth of the problem here.


There are a number of ways to look at the pay disparities between men and women. This chart from The American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows women’s median annual earnings as a percentage of men’s over the past 40 years. The pay gap has steadily narrowed over time, but it’s progress has stalled in recent years.

The Pay Gap Over Time
Women’s Median Annual Earnings as a Percentage of Men’s Median Annual Earnings
for Full-time, Year-Round Workers, 1972–2012

(Source: AAUW)

Pew Research looked at the pay gap by examining hourly earnings, estimated as usual weekly earnings divided by usual hours worked, because it “irons out differences in earnings due to differences in hours worked.” As such, Pew’s calculations take into account that women are twice as likely to work part-time as men, 26 percent versus 13 percent. They found that for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns $0.84.


The AAUW used the most recent statistics from the US Census Bureau to show the gender pay gap in states, as well as congressional districts. In Maryland, where the gender pay gap is second-smallest only to that of Washington, DC, women were paid 85 percent of what men were paid in 2012. Wyoming is on the opposite side of the spectrum with the most pay inequality, with women paid just 64 percent of what men were paid.


Comparing earnings between men and women, the Center for American Progress created this infographic below to show how the pay gap added up over time, using 2010 data. That year, the median full-time working man had earnings of $47,715 in earnings, compared to $36,931 for women. That pay difference of $10,784 adds up to $431,360 over 40 years! Here’s what women, and their families, are missing out on.



A survey by Pew Research found that young women are closing the wage gap with men: In 2012, among workers ages 25 to 34, women’s hourly earnings were 93 percent of those of men. Still, the survey found that these young women believe the fight is far from over. Seventy-five percent said America needs to do more to achieve gender equality in the workplace, compared with 57 percent of millennial men.

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  • Anonymous

    This seems like a pleasantly motivated missive, but by focusing on gender and pay as raw numbers, we completely ignore the very important factor of merit and thus focus on a very inaccurate measure of equality with respect to many professions. As a grown son of a single working mother, I am very sensitive to the “equal pay for equal work” axiom, but there is an overtly simple minded boiling-down of figures that can play a destructive role: there is nothing in the numbers that represent education, achievement and specialized training.

  • Margaret Mcintyre-Farina

    Karen, you are misquoting the Blau and Kahn research. Their most recent research indicates a possible ‘discrimination” gap of 9%–this is the ‘UNEXPLAINED” wage gap. Please do not falsify research. The Stanford 2007 study which you inaccurately quote actually says that women earn at least 80% of what men earn. I was Dr. Blau’s research assistant in 1979–I know her research and that she has devoted her entire life to the facts and evolution of women’s labor force participation, wages and career progress.

  • Anonymous

    Why should there be equal pay for equal work?

    If I am a truck driver in Florida where there is a glut of truck drivers and lots of supply of that skill, why should I be paid the same as a truck driver in North Dakota where there is an extreme shortage of truck drivers due the the oil boom?

    Or, if I am a teacher in San Francisco with a very high cost of living and stress, I should be paid the same as a teacher in a Boise, Idaho suburb, which has low cost of living and less stress?

    Are you saying that wage rates should be immune from supply and demand?

    What is wrong with letting the market set wage rates?

    On top of that, this entire article is not even comparing equal work. It is comparing the wages of all women to the wages of all men, regardless of the fact that men and women cluster around different professions, with different risks and different lengths of experience.

    Should the fact that men are killed on the job at rates 20 times higher than women, for example, be a reason for a market pay differential?

  • http://janpriddyoregon.blogspot.com Jan Priddy

    “Baron95″, you have chosen an odd series of comments to direct my way since I didn’t bring up any of the issues you are asking about. Still, I will try to answer you.

    Equal pay for equal work means that if two people do the same job, they should be paid the same. Lilly Lebetter did exactly the same job as men working for the same company and who were doing precisely the same work while she was there. She was paid less than men doing the same job in the same place at the same risk and at the same time. Since I did that as a young woman training someone to do my job but for less money that the boy I was training, I guess I have my bias. That’s why.




    Nothing much.

    No, it’s not. Or even if that’s what you see, …no it’s not.

    When it’s possible for men to die in childbirth we might have that conversation where you seem to suggest that only men do risky work or take chances. But I’ll answer your question anyway: no. Studies have corrected for all these differences. However people might argue, women still tend to be paid less for doing exactly the same work in the same place and under the same conditions and with the same experience and training and risk. That is not equal pay for equal work. See above.

  • http://janpriddyoregon.blogspot.com Jan Priddy

    I think, using the figures provided in the article forty percent of the 23% wage gap equals 9.2% that “cannot be explained.” (Do you know Karen Kamp personally?)

  • Margaret Mcintyre-Farina

    Jan, Karen’s article Misquotes Blau and Kahn’s Stanford article. I know both professors personally and I was Professor Blau’s research assistant in 1980. I worked in Washington and wrote my thesis, under Blau’s guidance, on the ‘Comparable Worth” Law. Blau has dedicated her life’s work to labor economics and women’s labor force participation. Misquoting articles does not make a stronger case. The 9% unexplained gap of Blau’s research was not derived in the manner of your algebraic work, “40% of 23%”.

  • http://janpriddyoregon.blogspot.com Jan Priddy

    Ms. Mcintyre-Farina, then the mathematical error seems to be Ms. Kamp’s misunderstanding and mine as well. However, I’m not sure I feel better knowing that women earned 80% of what men earned in the research you refer to, or that the “unexplained” gap I find in her article is merely 9%. (I wrote my thesis about something completely different and I teach writing. Unless someone is a personal friend and referred to in private correspondence, I refer to them by their last name.)

  • Margaret Mcintyre-Farina

    I’ve worked in the private sector as a Human Resources consultant for over 30 years. I rely on facts and empirical studies, not personal anecdotes, political movements or lawyers looking to create adversarial relationships for pay. What I find astounding is the degree to which folks are willing to trade the free market’s 9% unexplained wage gap for government control of wages and litigation to reach some mythical ‘equality”. As a labor economist, I believe the unemployment rate and the stifled economy is a much more serious problem for men and women, than a 9% unexplained wage gap between men and women.
    Unionized teachers, primarily women, in many states earn more than accountants in these same states. Should the accountants sue?

  • Anonymous

    Well, if you really want to be serious, as you claim to be on this much-debated topic, why be so vague about the factors explaining the gap? Because they are left out, we’re back again to the mystical dogma of salary discrimination. Give all the purported reasons and let us decide on our own. For example, is commute time factored in–men have a longer daily commute time than women. Time off for this and that–they claim that’s accounted for (really?). Actual jobs versus titles? Hours on the job–difficult to estimate, I would think.
    I mention this because I’ve heard many different views of this.

  • Margaret

    On April 21, 2014,the Virginia Pilot published Bureau of Labor Statistics data that show when women do not marry, have virtually no wage gap. They earn 96% for every dollar a man makes. Marriage and particularly motherhood reduces wage parity. But is that so bad if the other product–well raised children–is the outcome?