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The Gender Wage Gap Is Much More Complex Than We Thought

New research examines the complexities in the gender wage gap.

The Gender Wage Gap Is Much More Complex Than We Thought
[Photo: Flickr user Kathryn Decker]

Movements need sound bites to spread widely. But in reality, the gender wage gap is much more complex than the single-figure “cents on the dollar” stat that is commonly used as shorthand for the problem.

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The recently released “Status of Women in the States: 2015,” a project of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), peels back the layers around the topic, from geography and age to immigration.

If the gap continues to narrow at the current rate, women in the U.S. won’t see equal pay until 2058, the study finds. But that estimate differs widely from region to region: in West Virginia, Utah, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming, women won’t see equal pay in this century and beyond.

What makes this study different from so many other reports and research on the topic is its comprehensive look at factors beyond the average, says Moira Forbes, publisher of ForbesWoman. “So often, when we have these conversations, we assume there’s a one-size-fits-all solution,” Forbes says. The solution can’t be found with a blanket fix, but requires deeper explorations of regional and national factors at play, and within a variety of demographics.

As a complex issue, there is no simple answer. But starting by looking at the kinds of jobs women go into–older women in low-paying, part-time service jobs, for example, compared to young women entering STEM fields–could give insight on where to stress advances in the coming decades. This helps employers set aside unconscious biases, and encourages women to pursue areas where quantifiable growth is happening.

Women Of Color

The starkest differences in this demographic aren’t in comparing women of color to white women, but in looking at the disparities among minority women themselves. Asian/Pacific Islander women earn more than white women: $46,000 a year and $40,000 respectively. Parsing out even further, Indian women have the highest median earnings at $60,879.

Even the lowest earners in the Asian/Pacific Islander group, the Hmong, earn on average $30,000–more than the lowest-earning group of women of color, Hispanic women, at $28,000. Hispanic women earn at median only slightly more than half of what white men make. And looking at the issue state by state, demographic by demographic, can help women get over the stalled growth we’ve seen since the early 2000s.

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Immigrant Women

Immigrant women make up 13% of the total female population, but are less likely than U.S.-born women to participate in the labor force. Barriers to high-quality employment include the standard challenges all women face and then some: language, cultural differences, and lack of access to legal status hold this demographic back.

On average, they’re earning $7,000 less than U.S.-born women. But that’s not the full story: It depends highly on where a woman immigrates from, and what level of educational/professional achievement she reaches before coming to the U.S. Women from India, for example, earn $65,000 on average, nearly twice more than the overall average of all women.

Older Women

Women make up most of the older generation in the U.S., and 14% of women 65 and older are in the workforce. But they earn less than the average–72.5 cents on the dollar–and are employed in more service industries or administrative support jobs than men. Their male peers are more frequently found in management, business, and financial occupations. The median annual earnings of women in this demographic is $37,000. For their male peers, it’s $51,000.

Millennials

The youngest working generation is also the most promising one in closing the wage gap: Women age 16-34 experience a 87.5% earnings ratio, compared to the 78% national average of all ages.

Millennial women are also more likely to work in management, business, and finance than their male counterparts, according to the study. A little over 10% of young women are employed in these fields, compared to 9.7% of men. They also lead by a wider margin in professional occupations in general, with 24% of women, compared to 15.7% of men.

The best place to be a working millennial woman is New York, where they’ve closed the gap and then some, making 102.1% of what men do.

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About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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