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April 14 is Equal Pay Day, symbolizing the number of days into 2015 (in addition to all of 2014) that the average American woman would need to work in order to match what the average man made in 2014 alone, according to Department of Labor estimates.

Although the the gender wage gap has significantly narrowed in recent decades, it still persists to a notable degree. According to the DOL, women are paid on average 78 cents for every dollar made by a man. That gap is even wider for women of color.

Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce. They are the main breadwinners in about forty percent households and have eclipsed men in the number of college and graduate degrees earned, according to the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group. Yet, on average, women earn less than men in almost every occupation for which there is sufficient wage data. The median wage for full-time male workers was $48,202, as compared to $37,118 for women, based on NWLC’s analysis of  2011 American Community Survey data.

When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, full-time working women on average made about 59 cents for every dollar made by men. By 1973, the gap had actually grown wider:  women made 57 cents for every dollar men made. Since then, however, the gap has gradually narrowed, although it’s remained fairly stagnant since 2000.

A separate Pew Research analysis, based on hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers, found that today’s gender wage gap, although still significant, is smaller than the DOJ’s estimate. According to Pew’s estimate, women earn 84 percent of what men earn, meaning that it would take approximately 40 days, or until the end of February, for women to earn what men had made by the end of the previous year. The wage gap was even smaller for younger women, who on average made about 93 percent of what their male counterparts made.

Why does the wage gap still exist?

Reasons for the pay gap vary widely. Some academic studies argue that the disparity is due mainly to non-discriminatory factors related to division of labor in the home — including childcare — that often falls more heavily on women. Because of family-related circumstances, women are also more likely than men to have interrupted careers and to work part-time, which can result in less-senior positions and lower wages. Additionally, women are still more likely than men to be employed in lower-paying service and support professions. Some studies, however, point to evidence that the gender wage gap persists even after variables like family leave are taken into account, concluding that systemic discrimination remains a primary factor.

By race/ethnic group

The gender pay gap widens when comparing average annual wages made by women of color to those made by white men. For instance, African-American women working full time, year-round were paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 55 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, according to NWLC.

By state

Click on each state in the map below to see what women, on average, made for every dollar men made in 2011 (the ratio of female to male median earnings for full-time, year-round workers). The “wage gap” is the additional money a woman would have to make for every dollar made by a man in order to have equal annual earnings. The map uses 2011 data from the American Community Survey, collected by NWLC. Note that some figures have changed slightly since 2011. (Download the data here)

Leading the pack was Washington D.C., where average female full-time workers made, on average, 90.4 cents for every dollar male workers made. In California, which ranked fourth, women made 84.9 cents for every dollar made by men. Wyoming took up the rear: women there a mere 66.6 cents for every dollar made by men.

By profession

Even within the same professions, women today are still paid significantly less, on average, than men. But the pay gap varies dramatically by job, according to NPR’s Planet Money team, which looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The chart below, by Lam Thuy Vo, shows jobs where the wage gap is smallest and largest (based on comparisons of full-time workers). Part of the gap in pay, Vo notes, results from professional decisions some women voluntarily make. She writes: “Among physicians, for example, women are more likely than men to choose lower-paid specialties (though this does not explain all of the pay gap among doctors).” It’s also interesting to note, writes Vo, that the jobs where the gap is biggest are the one’s that pay more.

Percentages are based on the median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers. Not all jobs have enough workers for BLS to calculate a meaningful ratio.Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsCredit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR
Percentages are based on the median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers. Not all jobs have enough workers for BLS to calculate a meaningful ratio.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR


Matthew Green

Matthew Green runs KQED’s News Education Project, an online resource for educators and the general public to help explain the news. The project lives at

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