Published in: Research | Aug. 21, 2019

Gender Pay Gap Statistics for 2019

On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law. This act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit wage discrimination on the basis of sex.

More than a half-century later, women still earn less than men. This is true across the United States, and it's true even -- and perhaps especially -- among educated women.

The persistent gender pay gap affects every aspect of women’s finances, from poverty rates to retirement security. These shocking statistics show just how far women continue to fall behind their male counterparts, even in the #MeToo era where light is being shed on unequal and inappropriate treatment of women in the workplace.

Only by understanding this disparity can we start to change it.

Summary of key findings

  • Median weekly earnings dating back to 1979 show a gender pay gap. However, the wage gap has narrowed since then, when women earned 62% of what men earned. In 2018, women’s median earnings were 81% of men’s.
  • A gender pay gap exists in every state, with median earnings for women ranging from as low as 57% of median earnings of men in Utah to as high as 89% in Washington, D.C.
  • The gender pay gap exists at all education levels. Women and men are closest to equal in earnings at the "some college or associate's degree" level, where women make 70% of what men do.
  • The gender pay gap narrows when comparing men and women who aren't married (or have no spouse present) and have no children under 18 -- but women’s median earnings are still just 94% of men’s median earnings.
  • The gender pay gap has likely led to higher poverty rates among single women and female-headed households.
  • Women receive lower Social Security benefits than men, in part because of the gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap over time

The gender pay gap isn't a new phenomenon in the United States. In fact, median weekly earnings dating back to 1979 show disparities among working men and women ages 16 and over.

There has undoubtedly been an improvement -- women’s median earnings were 62% of men's median earnings in 1979 compared with 81% in 2018. But the wage gap has been slow to close and progress has virtually stalled for the past 13 years.

Women have yet to earn more than 83% of the median earnings of their male counterparts, despite the passage of laws such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This act strengthened existing fair pay laws by making it easier for women to take legal action in cases of gender inequality in the workplace.

The gender pay gap by state

The gender pay gap, unfortunately, isn’t a red or blue state problem. Nor is it a problem isolated to certain geographic areas. There's a pay gap in every state in the U.S. as well as the District of Columbia. The only place where women earn more than men is in Puerto Rico.

The data below shows just how much less women earn than men all across the country. It’s based on median earnings of men and women in 2017 among all workers aged 25 and older.

The gender pay gap and education levels

In recent decades, women have become more educated. In fact, since 1982, women have earned the majority of bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Women have also earned the majority of master’s degrees every year since 1987 and the majority of doctor’s degrees each year since 2006.

Unfortunately, an increase in education has not closed the gender pay gap. The table below shows the wage gap at different levels of educational attainment. The data is based on median earnings in 2017 of men and women aged 25 and older.

The U.S. Census Bureau looked at this information in a different way. It split people into two groups: one group has earned a bachelor's degree or higher, and the other has no bachelor's degree at all. When comparing women with a bachelor’s degree or higher to women with no bachelor's degree, the women with more education face a bigger wage gap.

Graphic of median earnings for full-time, year round workers by educational attainment for men and women.

Chart source: Census.gov.

One possible reason that education results in a larger wage disparity is that women with bachelor’s degrees are younger than men on average. This means they've had less time in the workforce to raise their salaries and develop relevant experience that boosts earnings.

The gender pay gap and family status

A common explanation for the gender pay gap is that women earn less than men because they devote more time to raising children. However, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that a gender pay gap exists regardless of family status.

Admittedly, the gap is smaller when comparing men and women who are unmarried or with no spouse present and no children under 18. But it doesn't disappear entirely.

How the gender pay gap affects women

The gender pay gap has a profound impact on women. Wage disparities likely contribute to the following facts:

  • Women have higher rates of poverty throughout their lifetimes.
  • Female-headed households face much higher poverty rates.
  • Women are less prepared for retirement.

Higher poverty rates

The gender pay gap is likely a major contributing factor to higher rates of female poverty across all age groups. Poverty levels are especially high among female-headed households.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates poverty rates among all working women would be cut in half if the gender pay gap was eliminated. In fact, they would fall by more than half in 36 states.

Reduced retirement preparedness and less financial security

The gender pay gap has also resulted in women receiving less in Social Security benefits than men. Social Security benefits are based on inflation-adjusted lifetime earnings -- so earning less means getting lower Social Security payments.

In 2017, the average Social Security income received by women 65 and older was $14,353 compared with $18,041 for men, according to the Social Security Administration.

Women are also more likely to work part-time jobs that don't provide access to retirement savings. They're also more likely to take time off of work to take care of family members. The fact that they live, on average, three years longer than men doesn't help, either. Fewer savings plus more years spending those savings mean women face a tough time in retirement.

The gender gap is a global problem -- and women can’t solve it alone

The gender gap doesn’t just exist in the United States. The World Economic Forum warns that no country has achieved gender parity and that women still face serious disadvantages across the globe when it comes to both political empowerment and economic opportunity.

Too often, women are blamed for the gender pay gap, with some people arguing that women's choices -- such as having children or failing to negotiate raises -- are the cause of their lower incomes. However, the data belies these assertions, including statistics from a recent study showing that women often ask for raises but are less likely to receive them.

True change will come only when the public, private, and social sectors join forces to make women’s equality a priority. Change is worth the effort, not just to help women, but to help the world’s economy as a whole. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing women’s equality could add as much as $12 trillion to the global gross domestic product by 2025.

Women have much to contribute, and the time has come to make the changes necessary to reward them equally for their efforts.

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For media inquiries, please contact Alicia Aldrich at aaldrich@fool.com.

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