April 3, 2017

The narrowing, but persistent, gender gap in pay

The gender gap in pay has narrowed since 1980, particularly among younger workers, but it still persists. In 2015, women earned 83% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time U.S. workers.

Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 44 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2015. (By comparison, the Census Bureau found that women earned 80% of what their male counterparts earned in 2015 when looking at full-time, year-round workers only.)

But for adults ages 25 to 34, the 2015 wage gap is smaller. Women in this group earned 90 cents for every dollar a man in the same age group earned.

(For more on the gender pay gap, see our 2014 explainer, “There’s more to the story of the shrinking pay gap.”)

The estimated 17-cent gender pay gap for all workers in 2015 has narrowed, from 36 cents in 1980. For young women, the gap has narrowed even more over time. Back in 1980, they earned 67% of their male counterparts, compared with 90% in 2015.

Why does a gender pay gap still persist? In our 2013 survey, women were more likely to say they had taken breaks from their careers to care for their family. These types of interruptions can have an impact on long-term earnings. Roughly four-in-ten mothers said that at some point in their work life they had taken a significant amount of time off (39%) or reduced their work hours (42%) to care for a child or other family member. Roughly a quarter (27%) said they had quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities. Fewer men said the same. For example, just 24% of fathers said they had taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.

Even though women have increased their presence in higher-paying jobs traditionally dominated by men, such as professional and managerial positions, women as a whole continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying occupations, and this may also contribute to gender differences in pay.

Some part of the pay gap may also be due to gender discrimination. In the 2013 survey,  women were about twice as likely as men to say they had been discriminated against at work because of their gender (18% vs. 10%). Furthermore, both men and women see inequalities in the workplace – 77% of women and 63% of men said “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace,” according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey.

Note: This post was originally published in April 2014. It has been updated to reflect more recent data.

Topics: Gender, Work and Employment, Income, Family and Relationships, Generations and Age, Family Roles, Business and Labor, Income Inequality

  1. Photo of Anna Brown

    is a research analyst focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Eileen Patten

    is a former research analyst focusing on Hispanic, social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.