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Updated: Jan 26

The Gender Pay Gap is Real

We explore what the wage gap is, why it exists and what can be done to help close it.

By Venus Gentile, Monster Contributor

The Equal Pay Act was established in 1963 in response to a lengthy campaign of dispute against wage disparity in the United States. Although the act was a significant breakthrough for improving gender equality, the gender pay gap remains a persistent concern. But despite the substantial movement toward pay equity and the immense gains made by women in educational achievements, women in the U.S. still earn considerably less than men on average.

While government labor force data supports the existence of the wage gap, many skeptics propose that it's driven not by discrimination but by women's voluntary choices. It is argued that women may opt to work in lower-paying jobs, they may shy away from negotiation or competition, or they've decided to take long career breaks to care for family. Other critics believe that the gender wage gap is a myth and doesn't exist at all.

The wage gap is, in fact, real but highly complicated. It results from many influencing factors, including ethnicity, disability, age, industry, and education. In this guide, we explain what the gender gap is and how it has evolved over time. We also provide some concrete statistics and suggestions on what needs to happen to close the gap.

What is the Gender Pay Gap?

The gender pay gap measures the disparity in earnings between men and women in the workforce. It’s typically calculated by adding up all the annual salaries of men and women working full-time, year-round, then finding the median wage and analyzing the difference. While multiple accredited institutions have calculated the gap in various ways, the consensus remains the same: women consistently earn less than men, especially women of color.

It's also important to understand that there are two types of gender pay gaps:

  • Unadjusted or uncontrolled pay gap. This measures the difference between the median salary of all men and women regardless of job title, experience, hours worked, and education. This analysis offers a well-rounded view for assessing potential pay disparities as it considers workers across all jobs and industries.

  • Adjusted or controlled pay gap. This compares the earnings of men and women with similar jobs and qualifications (equal pay for equal work). This analysis can help identify other factors that might explain any pay disparities.

Gender Pay Gap Statistics

If you're wondering, "Is the gender pay gap real?" we can shed some light on the most noteworthy and frankly alarming gender pay gap facts and statistics in order to have some common misconceptions about the gender pay gap debunked:

  • Women in 2021 earned 17% less on average than men.

  • "How much do women make compared to men?" is a commonly asked question. In 2022, the unadjusted pay gap was $0.82 for every $1 that men make. The adjusted pay gap is $0.99 for every $1 men earn. Although it is one cent closer to equal, the gap should of course, be zero.

  • Women face wider pay gaps in typically male-dominated industries and occupations. Plus, when women enter these industries, their pay decreases.

  • Women are less likely to be promoted and paid fairly in leadership roles.

  • Women of every race earn less than men, especially women of color, and the size of the disparity varies by state.

  • Wyoming has the worst wage gap, where women earn only 65% of what men earn. Vermont has the smallest wage gap; women make 90% of what men earn.

  • With the wage gap, women in some states effectively work the last few months of the year for free.

  • The gender pay gap widens over the course of a woman's career and is widest for women aged 55 to 64.

To put all of this into perspective and see why the gender pay gap is unfair, let's look at the 'lifetime wage gap' across all ethnic groups. This is the amount of money women will lose over a 40-year career, based on the current gender wage gap.

  • African American women will lose around $964,400compared to white, non-Hispanic men. In some states, including Utah, California, New Jersey, and Alaska, these career losses amount to more than $1 million!

  • Native American women will lose around $980,000.

  • Latina women will experience a lifetime wage gap of approximately $1.2 million.

  • Asian women will lose approximately $330,000.

  • White, non-Hispanic women will lose more than $500,000 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men.

How Has the Gender Wage Gap Changed Over Time in the U.S.?

This political issue emerged in the U.S. in the 1860s as the "Equal Pay for Equal Work" movement. In 1944, a New York member of congress, Winifred Stanley, introduced a bill called "Prohibiting Discrimination in Pay on Account of Sex," but it never passed.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act that aimed to abolish arbitrary wage differences based on gender. At that time, women were only making 60% of the average wage for men.

In 1964, The Civil Rights Act also addressed gender pay gaps by broadening the law to make compensation based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin illegal. The concept of comparable worth or pay equity started gaining traction in the 1970s and 1980s. The wage gap began to shrink even more until 1990, when women earned 70% of men's wages. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in 2009, increasing the period for women to file a discrimination claim.

While there has been progress on the legislative front over the last century, the wage gap has been slow to narrow, and women still only earn about 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.

The Best and Worst Industries for the Gender Pay Gap

To answer the question, "How much do women make compared to men?" it's helpful to know which industries are the best and worst for pay inequality. Here are some findings from the U.S. Census Bureau. We list the industries along with estimated women's earnings as a percentage of men's:

Industries with the Widest Wage Gaps

  • finance and insurance – 59.9%

  • agriculture, forestry, and fishing – 64%

  • professional, scientific and technical services – 64.2%

  • healthcare and social assistance – 69.6%

Industries with the Narrowest Wage Gaps

  • construction – 89.7%

  • real estate, rental, and leasing – 87.5%

  • educational services – 84.6%

  • mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction – 81.2%

Gender Pay Gap USA Laws, Legislation and Women’s Celebrations

Since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, there has been significant progress to help advance racial and gender equity. The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the U.S. House in 2021 and updated and reinforced the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by providing extra protection against pay discrimination. In addition, the Raise the Wage Act introduced in 2021 will gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The Economic Policy Institute projects that approximately six in ten workers who will get a raise are women.

As of 2022, most states have specific equal pay laws in effect, although all 49 states and the District of Columbia must abide by the Equal Pay Act of 1963. However, more sophisticated statutes have also been adopted in numerous states. The Pay Transparency Law requires employers to disclose salary ranges in their job postings to combat the gender pay gap and other wage discrimination. Similarly, more than 25 states ban employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their previous salary.

In an effort to raise public awareness about gender-based disparities, "Equal Pay Day" was established in 1996. The day it falls on is calculated by using gender pay gap statistics. The percentage of the wage gap translates into days of the year, thus showing how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

Women's Equality Day is celebrated annually on August 26th. Congress designated this date in 1973 to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. It marks American women's advancements toward gender equality and exists as a reminder of the challenges overcome by women throughout history. More and more employers now recognize women on this symbolic day, often by sending out a 'thank-you' card or email or organizing a happy hour or half-day off work.

What to Do If You Suspect Pay Discrimination at Your Work

If you feel you are a victim of unfair pay based on your gender, there are several steps you can take to protect your rights and address the gender pay gap in a positive but assertive way.

  • Do your research: before bringing the issue to your employer's attention, find out if your state has any other equal pay laws outside of the two federal laws – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. For more information on your legal rights, go to a federal agency such as theU.S. Equal Opportunity Commission(EEOC) website or your state enforcement agency. You should also refer to your employee handbook to see what policies might be in place to protect you.

  • Write it down: record the unfair pay practices you suspect are taking place. Keep copies of your pay stubs and any wage-related information.

  • Speak up: your boss or supervisor may not be aware of the pay disparity, so schedule a meeting to present the facts and discuss your concerns. If this doesn't work, you may need to speak directly with the human resources department, which may have access to more helpful resources.

  • Find legal help: you can go to your local bar association or legal aid organization to find an employment discrimination Or you can find a legal referral through national groups, such as the National Employment Lawyers Organization. Check with your state and federal laws first to determine the time limits for filing a legal claim.

How Can Women Help to Close the Gender Wage Gap?

Standing up for what you believe in can be difficult, but it's necessary and liberating. To address pay inequality, there are ways for women to take matters into their own hands. Women can start by researching salary figures and talking to decision-makers in their industry. This can give them the knowledge and confidence to ask for a raise or a promotion. Or, if they're looking to switch careers, they'll have the tools and resources to ask for what they are worth.

Initiating a women's group in the workplace can effectively bring women together to address the gender wage gap. It can provide mentoring, professional development events, and opportunities to share experiences and challenges. Women can also join advocacy groups to help support existing laws against gender pay discrimination. No matter the strategy, women have the power to change the future and raise the bar in today's workplace.

Find a Job That Pays What You Deserve

The first step in helping to close the gender wage gap is knowledge. Now that you're equipped with the facts, you have more power when negotiating a higher salary. If you've decided to move on and are looking for a career that will pay you what you're worth, we can help. Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll receive expert career advice, and job leads to help you climb the career ladder to success.

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the professional advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.

Contact Georgia Lee Arts at or if you would like to know more about building confidence and labor market information, pay scales, evaluating job offers, and so you can position yourself to ask for your value.

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