When Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963, she likely did not expect complete equality right away if women responded to her call to find meaningful work. But more than 50 years after that revolutionary text, the female workforce she inspired might be surprised and disappointed to learn that the gender pay gap goes even deeper than previously reported and is still devastating to women’s earning potential.
A new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that, for women who stay in the workforce, the pay gap is closer to the commonly cited statistic that women make a little less than 80% of what men do (women who worked all years between 2001 and 2015 made 33% less than men who did the same according to the report). But that gap becomes a chasm when researchers look at women and men who have made some earnings over a 15-year period: Between 2001 and 2015, women earned 49% of what their male colleagues received during the same timespan. That ratio includes all workers who were out of the workforce for part of the 15 years; during the time they were not working, their earnings were set at $0 for the calculations.
“Much ink has been spilled debating whether the commonly cited measure of the wage gap — that women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man — is an exaggeration due to occupational differences or so-called ‘women’s choices,’ but our analysis finds that we have actually been underestimating the extent of pay inequality in the labor market,” IWPR President and report co-author Heidi Hartmann said in a statement.
The findings have dramatic implications in context: Women are the co-breadwinners for half of America’s families, and yet they can be excluded them from lucrative middle-skill industries and penalized for taking time off of work.
Both women and men who took one year off from the workforce saw an average annual earnings loss of 39% compared to their gender counterparts who worked full-time throughout the 15-year period. But perhaps because they still bear the brunt of childcare, “only 28% of women … worked persistently full-time, year-round between 2001 and 2015,” the report found. That’s compared to 59% of men.
Though the data may seem discouraging (and it should be — at current rates of growth, women won’t have equal pay until 2059), even 49 cents on the dollar is an improvement on past figures, and women’s average salaries are on the rise. Between 1968 and 1982, women made annual average earnings of $14,379, compared to men’s annual average earnings of $51,575. Between 2001 and 2015, women’s annual average earnings almost doubled to $28,683, while men’s dipped slightly to $50,442.
“The good news is that, over the course of the nearly 50 years covered in the study, women have seen considerable progress in the labor force by entering the workforce at higher rates and staying in the labor force for longer periods of time, which have led to higher earnings and a narrower wage gap,” said report co-author Stephen J. Rose.
Not only are more women entering and staying in the workforce, but they’re also more educated: There are millions more women attending college than men. And with prominent figures shining a light on the pay gap that affects almost all industries, perhaps it won’t take the full projected four decades for women to win equal pay for equal work.