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The pay gap has stalled and parenthood is a big reason why

By Madison Hoff,

2023-03-14
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A woman pushes a stroller in New York City.
  • Women make about 84% of what men make based on full-time, year-round workers' median earnings for 2021.
  • That's the highest figure from 1960 to 2021 per Census Bureau data but progress in this ratio has stalled.
  • Caregiving and parenthood could be contributing to the gap in earnings between men and women.

The pay gap between men and women in the US has stayed stubbornly persistent for years, and how Americans raise their kids could be a big reason why.

March 14 is this year's Equal Pay Day, or how long it took into 2023 women to make what men made in 2022 alone. It provides a striking way of thinking about the gender pay gap.

"On Equal Pay Day, we call attention to this injustice and the pay disparities that add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income over a lifetime, undermining financial security for women and families across our Nation," President Joe Biden said in a proclamation .

While the ratio of women's earnings to men's earnings is higher than it was in 1960, women are still not making 100% of what men make as seen in the below chart, and progress has stalled in recent decades. In 2021, women's median earnings were about 84% of men's among those working full-time, year-round.

Additionally, per the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) , women made 77 cents per dollar men made when looking at all men and women, including those working part-time, suggesting the ratio is even farther from 100% when taking into account more workers.

Pew Research Center also looked at how the pay gap has evolved over time and found that it has stalled. A post from Pew Research Center notes that in 2002 women made 80 cents for every dollar men made, which only ticked up to 82 cents for every dollar men made in 2022.

"We find that there are two distinct episodes so to speak when it comes to the closure of the gender wage gap," Rakesh Kochhar, senior researcher at Pew Research Center, told Insider. "From 1982 to 2002, we see fairly steady progress and a fair amount of closure in the gender wage gap."

After that, however, "there has been very little progress" per Kochhar.

"Some of the reasons have to do with forces, if you will, that were active in the 1980s and 1990s to some extent have run out," Kochhar said. "By these forces I mean the progression of women into the labor force, their increase in the work hours spent on the jobs — so shifting more from part-time work to full-time work, for example, and taking less time off on the career ladder and so on. Those things narrowed with respect to men in the '80s and '90s. Another narrowing in the '80s, '90s was differences in the kind of occupations men and women work in."

These forces, along with "an improvement in education, helped to close the gender wage gap quite a bit in the '80s and '90s" per Kochhar.

The lack of progress since then, however, "points to factors outside of the workplace" or labor market "imposing some sort of a ceiling on the gender wage gap" per Kochhar.

One factor according to Kochhar is parenthood . For instance, a research paper from Patricia Cortés and Jessica Pan found that "by the 2010s, child-related inequality accounted for nearly two-thirds of the overall gender pay gap in the U.S." Additionally, according to a fact sheet from NWLC, there's a pay gap between mothers and fathers.

The NWLC fact sheet by Brooke LePage and Jasmine Tucker stated that "employers' outdated views about mothers harms mothers' job and salary prospects" but also that "mothers' wages are also affected by a lack of support for women's disproportionate caregiving responsibilities."

"The high cost of child care and a lack of paid leave make it less likely that women with caregiving responsibilities are able to stay in the workforce," the fact sheet added.

A Pew Research Center survey asked US adults why they think the pay gap persists.

"Parents with children younger than 18 in the household are more likely than those who don't have young kids at home (48% vs. 40%) to say a major reason for the pay gap is the choices that women make about how to balance family and work," stated a blog post from Pew . "On this question, differences by parental status are evident among both men and women."

Other factors Kochhar noted besides parenthood include "gender stereotypes" about occupations and college majors as well as "social cultural norms about who takes care of family."

Another factor is discrimination, per Kochhar. An October survey from Pew Research Center of US adults also found that 80% think "women are treated differently by employers" as either a major or minor reason why women make less on average. Additionally, there's about a 20-percentage point difference between women and men who said this as a major reason: 61% of women reported this compared to 37% of men.

Another reason behind this could be the kind of jobs women are more likely than men to work in.

"IWPR's research shows that 60 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still cannot get fair treatment when it comes to employment and earnings, even in jobs most commonly held by women," Daisy Chin-Lor, interim president and CEO of Institute for Women's Policy Research said in a statement . "The lower pay women receive in these occupations helps drive the overall wage gap, affecting the health and well-being of women and hurting their ability to provide for their families and the economy as a whole."

"Policymakers at the federal and state level must aggressively consider a range of policies that support the creation of good jobs for women, protect them from discrimination and harassment in the workforce, and ensure pay equity," Chin-Lor said.

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