Women earn only half of what men do when measured long-term

It’s often reported that women earn only about 80 cents on the dollar of what men make, a figure representing a comparison of annual earnings of women versus similarly-situated men. A new study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, however, measured women’s earnings over a period of 15 years. When measured over time, women earn less than half of what men earn.

Specifically, women averaged only 49 percent of what men earned between 2001 and 2015. The study also concluded, surprisingly, that progress on the wage gap has slowed in the last 15 years compared to the preceding three decades.

One reason this analysis come to such a different result is that it took into account the experience of women who leave the workforce temporarily, such as to have children. The gender gap is typically calculated by comparing the earnings of men and women who are in the same field, have the same qualifications, and make similar career choices. That is done in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

In this study, however, the researchers took into account the earnings penalty women face when they take time off from work. Specifically, they measured the difference between women who took off a single year and those who worked all 15 of the years studied. The women who took off a year earned 39 percent less than the women who took off no time. Meanwhile, in 1968, women who took a year off earned only 12 percent less than the women who did not.

There is an earnings penalty for men who take off time from their careers as well, but the study indicates that women almost always pay a greater price. Moreover, 43 percent of the women studied took off at least one year, which was nearly twice the men’s rate.

What can be done to reduce the gender pay gap?

According to the Institute, part of the problem keeping women from a lifetime of earnings equal to men’s is weak labor force attachment. According to prior research, affordable child care and paid family and medical leave policies can improve women’s attachment to the labor force.

The Institute also points to education as a basic part of the equation. Greater enforcement of Title IX, the part of the Civil Rights Act guaranteeing women equal educational opportunities, would likely increase women’s access to high-wage fields that have traditionally kept women out.


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