The most commonly reported statistic on the pay gap tell us that, on average, women earn about 80 cents to a man’s dollar—black or Latinx women take home only 63 cents and 54 cents, respectively. But those numbers only tell a small part of the story: According a new report by public policy think tank Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women earn only 49 cents to every dollar earned by a man.
How can this be? Traditionally, reports on the pay gap look at census data of men and women who work full-time in any given year. But that analysis only accounts for men and women who are able to fully participate in the work force, leaving out people who have to leave, either full or part-time, to take care of children, relatives, or other family members. Women are far more likely to make these sacrifices and are nearly twice as likely as men to take at least one year off work, a symptom of gender inequality that isn’t usually reflected in the pay gap statistics that inform policy reform.
In the report, “Still a Man’s Labor Market,” authors labor economist and Urban Institute fellow Stephen J. Rose and economist Heidi I. Hartmann, the founder of IWPR, widen their lens to include the number of men and women who leave the workforce, and the effect this has on their potential earnings.
The study found that while the pay gap has decreased over time, even between 2001 and 2015, women made just 49 percent of what men made. Rose and Hartmann found that while both men and women who took one year off from work took a salary hit—earning 39 percent less than those who remained employed—women are more likely to take such career breaks, and faced a higher penalty in the long run. Women who took at least four years off earned 65 percent less than women who worked without interruption, while men who took the same time off lost only 43 percent of earnings compared to men who worked consistently.
“The commonly used figure to describe the gender wage ratio—that a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man—understates the pay inequality problem by leaving many women workers out of the picture,” the authors write. Their study suggests that policies like paid family leave (the United States is the only industrialized nation without federally mandated paid family leave) and affordable child care will help even the wage gap by creating more opportunities and resources for workers who also manage roles as caretakers.
“Women get paid less in the same jobs as men, which is typical, garden variety discrimination. Add to that public knowledge that sexual harassment is endemic,” Hartmann told CNBC. “The fact is, we need stronger stronger equal employment opportunity enforcement and more family support.”