Two cents. That’s the amount of progress made in closing the gender pay gap during the last two decades, according to a Pew Research Center report published March 1.

In 2002, U.S. women earned $0.80 (median hourly earnings) for every $1.00 earned by U.S. men. Twenty years later, women now earn $0.82 for every $1.00 men earn. By comparison, the gender gap was reduced from $0.65 to $0.80 in the two decades from 1982 to 2002.

The pay gap widens with age, Pew reported, with women between ages 25 and 34 earning a higher median hourly average than women between ages 37 and 46 when compared to men of the same age ranges.

For example, in 2010, women ages 25-34 earned $0.92 for every $1.00 earned by men. In 2022, this group of women – now between the ages 37-46 – are earning $0.84 for every $1.00 earned by U.S. men in this same age range.

“This pattern repeats itself for groups of women who were ages 25 to 34 in earlier years – say, 2005 or 2000 – and it may well be the future for women entering the workforce now,” the report said. “A good share of the increase in the gender pay gap takes place when women are between the ages of 35 and 44. … This general pattern has not changed in at least four decades.”

The gender pay gap persists, and progress in closing the gap is slowing, despite a higher percentage of employed U.S. women now holding a bachelor’s degree than employed U.S. men.

In 1982, 26% of employed men aged 25 or older had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 20% of U.S. women. By 2002, 31% of both employed women and men held a bachelor’s degree. Currently, 48% of employed women hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to 41% of employed U.S. men.

Analyzing the pay of working U.S. men and women by educational attainment, the report found that there has been progress in pay equity since 2002 for all levels except for workers holding a bachelor’s degree.

Among women without a high school degree, their earnings rose from $0.80 in 2002 to $0.83 in 2022 for every $1.00 earned by men with the same educational level.

For women with a high school degree, there was a $0.06 increase to $0.81. For women with some college education, there was a $0.03 increase to $0.81 during this period.

By contrast, from 2002 to 2022, women with a bachelor’s degree experienced a $0.01 decline to $0.79 for every $1.00 earned by men with a bachelor’s degree.

“The college wage premium – the boost in earnings workers get from a college degree – increased rapidly during the 1980s. But the rise in the premium slowed down over time and came to a halt around 2010,” Pew noted. “This likely reduced the relative growth in the earnings of women.”

When looking at median hourly earnings for U.S. workers adjusted to 2022 dollars, women’s wages rose from $15.03 in 1982 to $18.62 in 2002 to $20.60 in 2022. By comparison, men’s wages rose from $23.12 to $23.27 to $25.00, respectively.

Overall, this is a $5.57 increase for women and a $1.88 increase for men during the past 40 years. Yet, the majority ($3.59) of the total median wage increase for women took place from 1982 to 2002. Similarly, the median hourly earnings gap between men and women narrowed by $3.44 from 1982 to 2002, but then was reduced by only $0.25 during the next two decades.

While emphasizing that there isn’t a single predominant cause for these trends, Pew cited multiple contributing factors that likely contribute to the persistent wage gap: parenthood, “fatherhood wage premium,” occupational choices, as well as gender segregation, stereotypes and discrimination.

The full report is available here.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for International Women’s Day (March 8). The previous articles in the series are:

What We Can Do in Remembrance of Her | Chris Smith

Imagine a Gender Equal Baptist World | Meredith Stone

Building a World, a Church Where We Show up for Everyone | Leah Grundset Davis 

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