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Anna Sheffer
November 29, 2018 11:00 am

It’s common (and depressing) knowledge that women make less money over the course of their lives than men. The gender wage gap starts early and is well-documented. And by now, you’ve probably heard the details: White women make 80 cents for every dollar that men earn, while black women and Latina women earn even less. But what if the pay gap between men and women is even wider than we previously thought? According to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), this could be the case.

The report, published on November 26th, points out that the gender wage gap is typically calculated based only on the salaries of people who work full-time and year-round. However, women are much more likely to work part-time or take time off from work than men (often due to the fact that they take on the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities). To counteract this, IWPR used 45 years of data from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics to track men and women’s earnings over three 15-year periods.

The results were alarming. After factoring in time off from the workforce, on average women earn just 49% of what men do in a year. And unfortunately, taking any breaks from work resulted in dramatically lower pay. The researchers found that from 2000-2015, women who took just one year off earned 39% less than women who worked for the whole 15 years. This is a huge deal, because 43% of women will take time off over the course of their lives (a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 39% of new moms took a significant amount of time off to care for their young children, compared to only 24% of new fathers).

The bottom line is that if we want pay equity to become a reality, we need to support working mothers. Things like paid parental leave, affordable daycare, and more flexible work hours could all contribute to this. These new findings are disheartening, but hopefully we can use them to work toward a more equal future.

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