It's safe to say that over the last century, we've made incredible strides towards achieving gender equality in our society.
It's been 97 years since the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, 53 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex and race, and 44 years since Roe v. Wade recognized that the constitutional right to privacy applies to women making their own personal medical decisions, including deciding to have an abortion. Yet there's still a lot of work to be done. Case in point: It's 2017 and still, on average, women don't earn as much as men.
Enter Equal Pay Day, with the purpose of creating awareness about the gender wage gap in the U.S. This year, it falls on Tuesday, April 4.
Ahead, we break down what Equal Pay Day really means and why the gender pay gap even exists. We'll also bust some of those pesky myths that are still pervasive when we talk about why women are still earning less than men.
First, what is Equal Pay Day?
Equal Pay Day is a symbolic day marking how far into a year women would have to work in order to earn the same amount men earned the year before. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 2016 women were paid on average about 22% less than men. (The institute obtained this figure after controlling "for race and ethnicity, education, experience, and location.")
Simply put, it would take until April 4, or 44 days into 2017, for women to make the same as men did in 2016.
Why would it take women 44 extra days of work to earn as much as men made in 2016?
You can thank the gender pay gap for that.
What does that mean again?
The gender pay gap is basically a term to explain how much money women are paid relative to men. For the longest time, women earned a lot less than men. But as women have made strides in education and labor-force participation, the gap started to close. However, it's still pretty significant.
To determine the gap, you divide women's wages by men's wages. The ratio (i.e. how much a woman is paid for every dollar a man earns) is expressed as a percent or in dollar terms. Therefore, you'll either hear that women make 80% of what men make, or that a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns.
I've read that the gap is not a real thing. Why is that?
There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, we live in a society where some men and women feel like the conditions for gender equality are already in place. For example, a 2014 Pew Research survey found that 77% of women and 63% of men believe "this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace." That's 23% of women and 37% of men who believe things are fine the way they are.
And second, there are multiple ways to calculate the wage gap. As a result, some people believe that because there are different measures, the data is automatically unreliable or even false.
One of the most common methods to measure the gap takes into account the U.S. Census Bureau. When the bureau's data is used, the ratio is typically measured for year-round, full-time employees by comparing the annual wages of the "median" or "typical" man and woman. Some wage gap data also looks at hourly pay and includes the wages of part-time workers, or adjusts the measure to take into account conditions such as education level and occupation, or demographic subgroups.
Obviously, different measures will give people different results. Maybe it will show that the ratio is 78 cents, 80 cents, or even 83 cents. But it's really important to note that no matter how the data is calculated, the results show there's always a gap.
Okay, so how does the gender pay gap have an impact on women?
For some women of color, the gap can even be wider. The Economic Policy Institute found that Asian women make slightly less per hour than a white male worker — just $2.15. But Black women and Latinas suffer the most. They end up taking home $7.31 and $8.91 less per hour, respectively.
The wage gap even affects women after they retire from work. Because women earn less than men during their working years, when they end up retiring they tend to receive less income than their male counterparts from sources such as Social Security, pensions, and retirement accounts.
When you look at how much money women lose throughout their lives because of the gender wage gap, the results are even more staggering. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the average female worker loses more than $530,000 over her lifetime. For the average college-educated woman, it's even worse: She will lose about $800,000.
What are some of the reasons the pay gap exists?
"Segregation by occupation" is one of the main reasons why the wage gap persists, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Women tend to be overrepresented in certain areas, such as education and health care. So, even though the pay gap exists in pretty much all of the occupational fields, the jobs in traditionally male-dominated industries tend to pay better than female-dominated jobs. And even though women have been taking more historically "male" jobs, that's not enough to close the gap. For example, women in industries like engineering and computing are still paid 82% and 87% of what their male coworkers earn.
Another reason is the "motherhood penalty." If women decide to have children, they often either stay at home or take on part-time jobs. Once they make the choice to return to the workforce full-time, employers are less likely to hire them — or they offer them less money than their non-mom female coworkers. However, men don't encounter a "fatherhood penalty" in comparison with other working men. In fact, studies have even found they get a "fatherhood bonus" — i.e. earning a higher wage after having a child.
And finally, there's always good-ol' gender discrimination and bias. Every year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, oversees thousands of cases of sex discrimination. But the wage gap is not necessarily tied to those cases. (Even though they're highly problematic.) Discrimination and bias is much more difficult to detect, but it's not impossible. Studies have found that even after statistically factoring for things like education level, work experience, geographical region, and other variables, there is still an unexplained gap in the earnings of some women when compared to male counterparts who have the same qualifications.
Is it possible for us to close the gender pay gap?
If conditions don't change, it will be a while before that happens. According to the AAUW, there could be pay equity by 2059 at the rate of change we saw between 1960 and 2015. But the issue is that progress has considerably slowed down since 2001. If the rate of change keeps stalling, then society won't close the gap until 2152. Yes, you read that right. It could take approximately 135 years for there to be pay equity between men and women.
What can we do, then?
At a personal level, you can always ask for more. When negotiating your starting salary or a raise, speak up and let your employer know your worth.
It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.