Different Studies Show Different Percentages in Gender Wage Gap

Nailing Down the Numbers

Man's hand and a woman's hand waving money
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There is no denying that a pay gap exists between men and women in the workplace. But nailing down just how much of a gap, and whether or not it’s growing or shrinking, depends on which study you look at. Different metrics indicate different results.

The Gap Widens

In 2016, the Institute of Women’s Policy Research analyzed the data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015. The IWPR's findings clearly showed that the pay gap, once thought to be narrowing, had up to that point actually been getting worse.

This study reveals that in 2015, women made only 75.5 cents for every dollar that men earned, a percentage that remained essentially unchanged for 15 years.

 “Women continue to take a major hit in the on-going economic slowdown,” commented IWPR’s president, Dr. Heidi Hartmann. “No progress on the wage ratio has been made since 2001, and women actually lost ground this year. Falling real wages for women indicate a decline in the quality of their jobs. The economic recovery continues to disadvantage women by failing to provide strong job growth at all wage levels.”

Recent Census Data

In September 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau released the results of its 2016 study on income and poverty in the United States. The numbers show a slight narrowing in the wage gap for that year. According to the report, the 2016 female-to-male earnings ratio saw a 1 percent increase from 2015. Women were now making 80.5 cents to every man’s dollar.

Challenging the Numbers

As pointed out in an October 3, 2017 article by Forbes magazine, most studies use median earnings in their wage gap measurements, understandable if the goal is to eliminate the potential bias of high earners in the calculations. But, as the article points out, the gender wage gap tends to be at the widest at the high earning mark, and therefore measuring the true statistical average (the mean) might be more accurate. If so, then the wage gap hasn’t budged from 2015.

Furthermore, measuring hourly, weekly, or annual earnings can result in different numbers. The Census Bureau uses annual earnings in its calculations, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics measures the gap using weekly earnings. The non-partisan Pew Research Center uses hourly wages in its calculations. As a result, Pew posted a 2015 wage gap percentage for workers age 16 and over of 83 percent. Millennial workers between the ages of 25–34, on the other hand, were at near gender parity, with women earning about 90 percent of their male counterparts.

A Gap is Still a Gap

Regardless of the methods used to calculate the numbers, studies continue to reveal a wage gap between women and men in the United States. Gains achieved in some years are wiped out by data gathered in other years. Furthermore, the gap is even wider for women of Hispanic and African American heritage.

In light of the 2016 IWPR study, Dr. Barbara Gault, IWPR Director of Research, suggested some ways to close the gap. “We need to raise the minimum wage, improve enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, help women succeed in higher-paying, traditionally male occupations, and create more flexible, family-friendly workplace policies."