Most readers may be aware of the oft-cited statistic that says working women in the United States earn roughly 77 to 86 cents for every dollar a man does, but this is likely overly optimistic.
Given a far more in-depth look at both men and women working over longer periods of time, it soon becomes clear that existing figures are actually a woeful underestimate of the true gender income gap across the country.
A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research examines a wide array of American workers in three different 15-year periods. And the key finding is nothing short of shocking: Between 2001 and 2015, women — on average — brought home merely 49 percent of the income men did.
It’s important to understand how researchers arrived at this figure and why it differs so greatly from the widely accepted numbers on the wage gap.
One of the key differences between this study and others is that it looks at workers’ income over an extended period of time and considers the impact of other factors — such as profession, amount of take-home pay and time taken off from work — on future income.
This last factor had previously been given little attention, yet it proves to be a very crucial component in understanding the gender income gap. Compared to men, women take more time away from work, be it temporary — such as time off after giving birth — or for extended periods. Given the poor support women in the United States typically receive from their employers when it comes to maternal leave and childrearing, this can be costly.
Unsurprisingly, workers who experienced periods of unemployment typically return to the workforce earning less than they had before. This is especially true for women who take a cumulative of four or more years off within a 15-year period — and keep in mind that they were previously earning less than their male peers. When women return to the workforce, they earn about 65 percent less — whereas men, by comparison, earn 57 percent less.
Another significant factor behind this income gap is what the report refers to as “labor force attachment” — that is, full-time versus part-time employment, as well as the amount of time working for a given employer. The more hours an employee has, and the longer they’ve been with an employer, the greater access they gain to benefits — a novel consideration for this report.
It is here that one of the largest single-factor gaps in the report’s analysis can be found. Men overwhelmingly have “strong” attachment — 12 or more years of year-round employment — whereas most women have “weak” attachment.
Statistics aside, what does it all mean?
Beyond simply paying women the same as their peers and implementing greater enforcement of equal opportunity employment laws, women need greater opportunities to achieve high labor force attachment. This means greater employer support for paid maternal and medical leave, as well as access to affordable childcare.
There are still barriers to women being employed in high-earning professions, like engineering and medicine — and, unfortunately, women are also often earning lower incomes in these STEM fields when compared to their male peers.
While the report does show that the gender income gap has been narrowing in a meaningful way over the last half century, American women still lag drastically far behind their male counterparts.
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Originally published at https://www.care2.com.