The gender gap in pay has remained relatively stable in the United States over the past 15 years or so. In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020.

As has been the case in recent decades, the 2020 wage gap was smaller for workers ages 25 to 34 than for all workers 16 and older. Women ages 25 to 34 earned 93 cents for every dollar a man in the same age group earned on average. In 1980, women ages 25 to 34 earned 33 cents less than their male counterparts, compared with 7 cents in 2020. The estimated 16-cent gender pay gap among all workers in 2020 was down from 36 cents in 1980.

Gender pay gap in U.S. has remained stable in recent years, but is narrower among young workers
How we did this

The gender pay gap measures the difference in median hourly earnings between men and women who work full- or part-time in the U.S. Historically, men have earned more on average than women, but the gap has slowly closed over time. The most recent data is from 2020 Current Population Survey Merged Outgoing Rotation Group (MORG) files. To understand how we calculate the gender pay gap, see our 2013 post, “How Pew Research Center measured the gender pay gap.”

The U.S. Census Bureau has also analyzed the gender pay gap, though its analysis looks only at full-time workers (as opposed to full- and part-time workers). In 2019, full-time, year-round working women earned 82% of what their male counterparts earned, according to the Census Bureau’s most recent analysis.

Why does a gender pay gap still persist?  

Much of this gap has been explained by measurable factors such as educational attainment, occupational segregation and work experience. The narrowing of the gap is attributable in large part to gains women have made in each of these dimensions.

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 relative to their share of the workforce. This may contribute to gender differences in pay.

In 2017, roughly four-in-ten working women said they experienced gender discrimination at work

Other factors that are difficult to measure, including gender discrimination, may also contribute to the ongoing wage discrepancy. In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, about four-in-ten working women (42%) said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, compared with about two-in-ten men (22%). One of the most commonly reported forms of discrimination focused on earnings inequality. One-in-four employed women said they had earned less than a man who was doing the same job; just 5% of men said they had earned less than a woman doing the same job.

Motherhood can also lead to interruptions in women’s career paths and have an impact on long-term earnings. Our 2016 survey of workers who had taken parental, family or medical leave in the two years prior to the survey found that mothers typically take more time off than fathers after birth or adoption. The median length of leave among mothers after the birth or adoption of their child was 11 weeks, compared with one week for fathers. About half (47%) of mothers who took time off from work in the two years after birth or adoption took off 12 weeks or more.

Mothers were also nearly twice as likely as fathers to say taking time off had a negative impact on their job or career. Among those who took leave from work in the two years following the birth or adoption of their child, 25% of women said this had a negative impact at work, compared with 13% of men.

Mothers in the U.S. are more likely than fathers to say they have needed to reduce their work hours or felt like they couldn’t give 100% at work

Once women become mothers, juggling family caregiving responsibilities and work can be a challenge. Mothers, even those who are married and work full time, tend to carry a larger load at home than fathers when it comes to these tasks. In a 2019 survey, mothers with children younger than 18 were more likely than fathers to say they needed to reduce their work hours, felt like they couldn’t give full effort at work and turned down a promotion because they were balancing work and parenting responsibilities. Roughly one-in-five mothers said they had been passed over for an important assignment or a promotion at work, while 27% said they had been treated as if they weren’t committed to their work.

Overall, Americans see equal pay as central to gender equality. In a 2020 survey, 45% of those who said it’s important for women to have equal rights with men volunteered equal pay as a specific example of what a society with gender equality might look like. This response trumped other items such as women not being discriminated against for their gender or women being equally represented in leadership positions.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on March 22, 2019. Former Pew Research Center staff Nikki Graf and Eileen Patten contributed to this analysis.

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Amanda Barroso  is a former writer/editor focusing on social trends at Pew Research Center.
Anna Brown  is a research associate focusing on social and demographic trends research at Pew Research Center.