The XX Factor

The Persistence of the Pay Gap

The Department of Labor has released its latest data on women’s earning, and the Economix blog highlights how younger women experience a smaller wage gap relative to young male workers. In 2009, women ages 16 to 19 who worked full-time earned 90.7 percent of what men earned, while women ages 20 to 24 earned 92.9 percent, and women ages 45 to 54 earned just 73.6 percent.

The comparison makes this sound like good news. But what’s actually shocking in this report is that there has been so little progress in eradicating the gender pay gap for the youngest cohorts of women workers. In 2000, the numbers were virtually the same as in 2009: Women ages 16 to 19 who worked full-time earned 91.9 percent of what men earned. This was the same as women ages 20 to 24, while women ages 45 to 54 earned just 72.7 percent.

Women now outnumber men on college campuses. How can it be that today’s youngest cohorts of women workers are getting more education, yet still have not closed the gender pay gap? The sad truth is that the gap emerges as soon as women graduate. The American Association of University Women has shown that even once researchers account for the measurable factors that affect pay among graduates just one year out of school, such as type of job, whether the job boasts a flexible schedule, educational credentials (including grade point average and the selectivity of the college attended), a 5 percent pay gap remains unexplained for these new college graduates. This means that a woman who goes to the same school, gets the same grades, has the same major, takes the same kind of job with similar workplace flexibility perks, and has the same personal characteristics-such as marital status, race, and number of children-as her male colleague earns 5 percent less than him the first year out of school. Ten years later, even if she keeps pace with the men around her, the AAUW research found that she’ll earn 12 percent less. This is not about the choices a woman makes, because this analysis compares men and women who have made nearly identical choices.

While it’s true that women still take more time out of the labor force than men to care for their families, the vast majority of women workers ages 16 to 24 haven’t yet taken that time off. In looking for an explanation for the persistent pay gap among the younger cohorts of workers, one has to wonder just how far we’ve come.

Photograph of protesters by William West/Getty Images.