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Two-cent raise for women in 20 years highlights persistent gender wage gap

On average, women's pay went up two cents over the last 20 years, earning an estimated 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

(CN) — In professional boxing, men fight 12 three-minute rounds, while women typically go 10 two-minute rounds. When asked whether women should spend the same amount of time in the ring as their male counterparts, undefeated flyweight fighter Seniesa Estrada quipped she’d be happy to fight equal time for equal pay.

The gender pay gap is not a phenomenon of professional sports, but a persistent trend found throughout the U.S. economic machine. Pew Research Center published an analysis Wednesday tracking the difference between men’s and women’s earnings over the last 40 years.

Overall, women’s earnings are closer to men’s today than they were 40 years ago. But most of those gains were made decades ago. Over the last 20 years, the gender wage gap has only shrunk by only two cents. 

Pew found this after analyzing monthly files from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey from January 1982 through December 2022.

In 1982, women made an average 65 cents for every dollar earned by men. Twenty years later, in 2002, women closed that gap by 15 cents, earning roughly 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. Researchers attribute the gains to more women attending college and taking on higher-paying jobs.

Despite strong gains made in the 1980s and 1990s, women’s earnings stalled through the turn of the century. In 2022, women earned an average 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man — just two pennies more than reported wages in 2002.

“In some ways, the economic climate has proved less favorable for women this century,” Pew senior researcher Rakesh Kochhar said in the paper. “For reasons that are not entirely clear, women’s employment was slower to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009. More recently, the Covid-19 recession took on the moniker ‘she-cession’ because of the pressure on jobs disproportionately held by women.”

Still, young women today often start careers closer to wage parity with men but earn less over time as they age.

For example, women who were between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2002 typically earned 92 cents to the dollar earned by men. Now at age 37 to 46 in 2022, the average woman earned 84 cents to every dollar earned by a man — a decline of 8 cents.

In 2022, women ages 55 to 65 earned an average 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man, a pattern that has remained consistent over the last 40 years.

One of the main factors hampering the upward pay mobility of women in the workforce is motherhood. Mothers aged 24 to 44 work fewer weekly hours on average than women who do not have children. Fathers on the other hand tend to earn a wage premium — working more hours and earning more than similarly situated men without kids.

Education can narrow the pay gap, with mothers earning about the same pay as women who aren’t mothers but have similar education attainments. Still, researchers found the earnings gap between men without college degrees and women is the same, regardless of women’s education level.

“Among employed women ages 25 to 34 with at least a bachelor’s degree, both mothers and women without children at home earned 80% as much as fathers in 2022,” Pew found.

Nearly half of women had a college degree in 2022, more than double the rate in 1982. At the same time, a college degree provides fewer economic benefits.

In addition to becoming more educated, women are filling higher paid jobs with 40% of women as managers in 2022 compared to 26% in 1982. The number of women working in many other sectors, including business and finance as well as law and media, is also up. Fewer women are working low-paid office support and food service jobs than they were 40 years ago.

Researchers say gendered differences in earnings have largely been driven by differences in educational attainment, jobs worked and work experience among men and women. Nevertheless, speaking with 5,000 American adults in October 2022, Pew found people are still more likely to perceive the trend as being driven by social factors.

In all, 40% of people said the way women are treated by employers is one of the reasons the pay gap persists. Three out of four people believe women’s choices in balancing work and family factor is causing them to earn less than men over time.

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