mean reduced Social
Security benefits, smaller
accruals in defined
benefit plans, and more
difficulty saving enough for
IN JULY, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released the most recent data highlighting the gap in pay between women and men.
For all workers, median full-time weekly earnings
were $824. For men it was $909, and for women it
was $744, or 81.8 percent of median earnings for men.
Social scientists, economists, lawmakers and equal
rights activists have been tracking the gender pay gap
for decades. Certainly, it has narrowed since President
John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in
1963, when women earned about 59 percent of what
their male counterparts did, according to the National
Committee on Pay Equity, a nonprofit advocacy group
based in Washington.
Between 1980 and 2001, the percentage of pay increased substantially, from 60 percent to just over 76
percent. Much of what economists call the traditional
rationales for explaining the gender pay gap—such
as workforce participation and education rates—also
shifted substantially in that time. In 1963, women
accounted for 34. 4 percent of the workforce; in 1990
it was 45.2 percent; by 2015, women accounted for
nearly 47 percent of the workforce.
But since the strides made in the 1980s and 1990s,
the income gap has proven to be stubbornly persistent. In 2007, women earned about 78 percent of what
men earned. For the next five years, their pay as a
percentage of men’s actually dropped marginally.
Meanwhile, the traditional rationales used to, in
part, explain the gap may be providing less ballast
for those who challenge the presence of systemic pay
Not only are women participating in the labor force
at equal rates to men, but in 2015, more women held a
bachelor’s degree than men, marking a first since the
Census Bureau began tracking data on higher education.