Gender Pay Gap Stagnant Over Past Decade, Data Shows

Posted May 26th, 2021.

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By Amanda Ottaway

Women earned 84 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts last year, according to an analysis from the Pew Research Center that showed the gender wage gap has been stuck in that vicinity for over 10 years.

The think tank said its findings, which it released Tuesday, analyzed data of both full-time and part-time workers from the Current Population Survey, a project of the United States Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pew said women would need to work an extra 42 days to make the same amount as men in 2020.

“It’s unsurprising to see that there’s still a substantial wage gap between men and women in the workforce,” said Ali Harwin, a plaintiff-side partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP and co-chair of the firm’s discrimination and harassment practice group. She added that the numbers Pew used “don’t tell the full story” because they look only at people who are working.

“The stagnation in the data is real cause for concern and should be a wake-up call to employers that much more needs to be done than the status quo in order to close the gap,” Harwin added.

Paul DeCamp, co-chair of Epstein Becker Green’s wage and hour practice group, pointed to Pew’s finding that the gap, while recently sluggish, has narrowed over time: In 1980, women made 64% of what men made, it said.

“That’s big progress, and I think it’s worth noting,” he said, even though the report seemingly suggests most of that progress was made on the early side of those last 40 years.

Matthew Gagnon, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, also took note of the change.

“You’d hope it would be better than that,” Gagnon said of the 20% bite into the wage gap that has occurred over the last four decades. But still, change is happening, he said.

“You still have issues with who’s getting promoted into the C-suite and that kind of stuff, and hopefully that has improved over time,” he said. “But the fact that it hasn’t held steady does kind of imply that there’s something about our society that we can change, that can improve the situation.”

The Pew analysis also highlighted that younger women are more likely to earn wages closer to those of their male counterparts. Women between the ages of 25 and 34 earned 93 cents on each male-earned dollar in the same age group last year, it said.

Gagnon speculated that the smaller gap among younger workers could have something to do with education.

“If things like educational attainment are driving this, and it’s true that women have completely caught up and even surpassed men in terms of educational attainment and other factors like that, then … that’s a great thing to see,” Gagnon said.

Richard Fry, a Pew senior researcher, and Kim Parker, the think tank’s director of social trends research, said in an email Wednesday that while education does help level the playing field for women early in their careers, that benefit tends to slip away as those women get older and take on “additional responsibilities around parenthood and family.”

Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Harwin also highlighted the parenting issue.

“As women and men become parents, we see a growing gap in their wages,” she said. “And this is a reflection of how workplaces fail to treat mothers and fathers equally, and in many ways don’t have the structures in place needed to support parents in the workplace.”

The Pew staffers said the think tank hadn’t yet calculated how this year’s wage gap affects women of different races and ethnicities, but noted that those disparities have been “significant” in the past. Black and Hispanic women earn less than white and Asian women, according to pay equity advocates and prior Pew research.

The Pew analysis also does not discuss the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed millions of women out of the workforce.

“Our methodology does not attempt to account for those out of the labor force,” the researchers said.

Citing research Pew published earlier this year, they said, “We know that the employment losses during 2020 were larger among those in lower-wage occupations.”

DeCamp also pointed to the pandemic as having a potential effect on women’s earnings.

“I think there’s a concern about what’s going to happen because of the pandemic and people working from home, and is that going to maybe cause some backsliding on those numbers,” he said of the gap’s having closed somewhat over the past several decades.

–Editing by Vincent Sherry.

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