Things got worse last year, not better. And women of color face the biggest gap.
We often hear that the gender wage gap is closing.
Overall, the pay gap between American women and American men has narrowed significantly since 1980, from about 36 cents to about 15 cents in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center.
But last year, the wage gap actually got slightly bigger. In 2018, women’s earnings were 81.1 percent of men’s, down from 81.8 percent in 2017, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The drop was especially pronounced for black women, whose earnings went from 67.7 percent of white men’s in 2017 to 65.3 percent in 2018; and Latina women, whose earnings dropped from 62.1 percent to 61.6 percent of white men’s. White women’s earnings dropped from 81.9 percent to 81.5 percent of white men’s.
Those drops aren’t huge, and wage gap numbers always fluctuate a bit from year to year, Ariane Hegewisch, the program director on employment and earnings at the IWPR, told Vox. But they point to something bigger: After relatively swift progress in the 1980s, the wage gap has been stagnating for years. And women of color face especially large disparities. “Progress in terms of closing the gender wage gap is smaller than it has ever been,” Hegewisch said.
Overall, women make about 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. For black and Latina women, the gap is bigger.
It’s hard to know the exact reason behind the widening gaps for black and Latina women in 2018. But the salary picture in different sectors of the economy may play a role, Hegewisch said. The country has seen growth in service jobs like domestic work, where black and Latina women are overrepresented. Those jobs tend to pay a low wage, which may account for some of the growing gap.
Meanwhile, black professional women are more likely than white women to work in the public sector, Hegewisch said, where wage growth has been slower than in the private sector.
Overall, black, Latina, and Native American women experience much larger wage gaps than white women, as compared with white men. (Asian-American women made 93.5 percent of white men’s earnings in 2018, according to the IWPR.)
The reasons for the larger wage gap experienced by some women of color are many, according to Sarah Fleisch Fink, the director of workplace policy at the National Partnership for Women and Families. Women lose wages if they have to take unpaid leave to care for a child or other family member — as Vox’s Sarah Kliff has written, much of the wage gap is really a motherhood penalty. And black and Latina women are less likely than white women to have access to paid leave, Fink said.
Meanwhile, “there’s still a part of the wage gap that is only explained by the fact that sex discrimination remains,” Fink said, “and we know that Latinas and black women are at the intersection of a number of types of discrimination.”
For all women, progress toward pay equity has slowed
The fact that women lost some ground relative to men in 2018 is reflective of a larger trend — while the wage gap narrowed dramatically in the ’80s, that process has slowed in recent years.
Between 2009 and 2018, the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings has changed less than 1 percent, Hegewisch said.
Improved access to paid leave would help close the wage gap, both for women as a whole and for black and Latina women specifically, she added. So would improving pay for child care and other care workers.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House last week, would also help women by banning employers from asking prospective employees about salary history, Fink said. The bill would also eliminate workplace rules that keep workers from discussing their salaries with one another.
“Year after year, we talk about the wage gap,” Fink added, “and there is a solution on the table.”