Senior Couple

Photo: Flickr user Kayugee.

The gender wage gap is a persistent problem that's taking a long time to solve. The fact is that on average, women earn about $0.78 for each dollar brought in by men. And a report from the Government Accountability Office suggests that this is having a significant effect on the state of women's finances in retirement.

Let's take a look at some facts about the gender wage gap and its impact on women over the age of 65.

1. Women 65 and older are twice as likely to live in poverty as men
The impact of the pay gap lasts a lifetime. Because of more time spent out of the workforce, less access to retirement savings plans, and a lifetime spent working for lower wages, women in retirement are twice as likely to live in poverty as men are.

Women over 65 rely on an average income of around $16,000 a year, according to the GAO report. Men, on the other hand, have more than $27,000 a year to work with. Social Security benefits, which are often the sole source of income for retirees, could be partially to blame, along with the fact that women live longer on average than men.

"You combine lower resources with longer life expectancies and very quickly you can identify that there is more risk here," Dave Littell, retirement income program director at The American College, told CNN Money.

2. The wage gap is a pervasive problem
Even when considering professions that are historically female-dominated, the wage gap is notable. For example, women hold more than 70% of elementary and middle school teaching jobs, but men earn a median salary of $1,096 a week, while women earn $956. In retail sales, the gap is even more significant. Women earn $0.70 to the dollar for this work. And among full-time working lawyers, women earn $0.83 to a man's dollar.

There is even some evidence that the gap begins in childhood. Over the course of a lifetime, the pay gap really starts to take a toll, and by the time retirement comes around, women are left in a much worse financial situation than men who worked in the same field.

3. Employers need to take responsibility for this, and government policies should be adjusted
While many aspects of retirement are affected by government policy, employers need to take a closer look at how the wage gap is affecting their female employees post-retirement and make strides to adjust their salaries and benefits accordingly.

Last year, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced the RAISE Act -- short for Retirement and Income Security Enhancement -- as a way to enhance and protect the Social Security system. The RAISE Act would strengthen benefits for struggling seniors, most of whom are women. It would also shore up Social Security to ensure that future generations will continue to receive benefits by asking those who can afford it to pay more.

The wage gap starts early, persists through years of employment, and continues to have an impact when it's time to retire. The shocking statistics on senior women living in poverty should serve as a wake-up call to those who continue to underestimate the significance of the pay gap.

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This article originally appeared on PayScale.com.

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