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Gender Pay Gap Has Seen Virtually No Improvement in Two Decades

Women are still behind on Equal Pay Day

A man holding two stacks of coins in his hands.

Recent research finds that the pay gap between men and women has barely budged in 20 years—a discrepancy illustrated by Equal Pay Day on March 14.

The gap in pay between male and female workers has not changed much in two decades, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers released earlier this month. In 2022, women earned an average of 82 percent of what men earned—barely an improvement from 2002, when women earned 80 percent as much as men. The halt in progress over the last two decades is significant, as progress was made in the 1980s and 1990s, Pew research found. In 1982, women earned just 65 cents for every dollar earned by men, and over the following 20 years, that rate jumped by 15 cents.

"The gender pay gap has been narrowing but has not closed, which is a reflection on how society continues to value the work of women less than the work of men and an indicator of how wealth and power are gendered," said Amy Stewart, associate director of content and editorial at Payscale, a Seattle-based compensation software firm. "More work needs to be done."

The Pew data came out just weeks before this year's Equal Pay Day, a date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. It was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996 to raise awareness about wage inequity.

More education isn't leveling the playing field, Pew research finds: The wage gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college.

The Pew research is not an outlier in highlighting the wage gap between men and women. Payscale's 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report and 2021 data from the U.S. Census Bureau also found that women earned about 82 cents for every dollar men earned in 2021 and 2022. Even worse, Hispanic or Latina women earned about 58 cents and Black women earned about 63 cents for every dollar white men earned. Disabled women also experienced significant disparities compared to men with disabilities.

However, Pew found that the wage gap is smaller for workers ages 25 to 34 than for all workers ages 16 and older. In 2022, women ages 25 to 34 earned an average of 92 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same age group, an 8 cent gap. By comparison, the gender pay gap among workers of all ages that year was 18 cents.

Why does the gap still endure? A variety of reasons factor in. The Center for American Progress pointed to the fact that jobs that have historically been consigned to women, or are female-dominated fields, tend to offer lower pay than those that have historically been dominated by men. Caregiving and parenting responsibilities, which often fall more on women's shoulders, also play a big role, Pew found. "Other factors that are difficult to measure, including gender discrimination, may also contribute to the ongoing wage discrepancy," wrote Carolina Aragão, research associate at Pew Research Center.

Some strides are beginning to be made, however.

A majority of organizations prioritize pay equity, Payscale research finds. Sixty-three percent of organizations say pay equity is a current or planned initiative for them. And industry experts hope that a widespread call for pay transparency—with many employees calling for the practice, several states and cities enacting laws requiring it, and a growing number of employers including salary ranges in job postings—will also make a positive impact.

Pay transparency legislation has the potential "to expedite closing the gender pay gap, both because it will force organizations to align pay equity with compensation strategy and because publishing pay ranges to job ads will encourage women and other underprivileged groups to apply to higher-paying jobs and negotiate salary with more confidence," Payscale's Stewart said.

Employers play a vital role in efforts, experts say.

"Employers are responsible for ensuring pay equity within their own organizations, and measuring both controlled and uncontrolled pay gaps with pay equity analysis," Stewart said. "They are also responsible for closing pay gaps, communicating these efforts to the workforce, and investigating systemic issues that may disadvantage women, racial minorities and other protected classes in hiring, pay equity and promotions."


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