Yes, you read that headline right — the gender pay gap is actually shrinking.
In 2016, American women earned more than 80 percent as much as their male counterparts — $0.85 for every dollar earned by men. This is up from 79.6 cents in 2015, and this increase marks the first statistically significant annual increase since 2007. Median household incomes are also increasing. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, overall household incomes have risen to the highest figure ever measured by the bureau.
While there’s reason to celebrate, this news also comes with a few grains of salt; these income gains are not evenly distributed. The average Asian-American brought home more income in 2016, but saw less substantial annual gains than other demographic groups. Black Americans saw their median pay climb 5.7 percent and Hispanic Americans by 4.3 percent, but neither of these are enough to end the pay gap between White Americans and persons of color.
“While these numbers reflect incremental improvement, they have not canceled out peoples' experience,” Tom Hirschl, a sociologist and professor at Cornell University, told U.S. News. “Working class Americans still feel economically insecure.”
Recent research from the Association of American University Women (AAUW) shows that women of color make significantly less than their white male counterparts. On the highest end of the spectrum, Asian females make 85 percent of white men’s earnings. On the lowest end, Hispanic or Latina women were paid only 54 percent of what white men made.
“Choices around occupation help us understand some of the pay gap, but not all of it,” Renee Davidson wrote for AAUW. “While more education helps increase women’s earnings, it still doesn’t close the gender pay gap. Hispanic women are paid less than white and Asian women are, even when they have the same education credentials.”
Again, the fact that the pay gap exists and is a problem is old news. Employers have historically placed a lower value on work done by women, which affects employee salary and respect in the workplace. “It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill or importance,” Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University told the New York Times. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”
The recent increase in median women’s salary brings us hope, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Women are already learning to ask for more, get the most out of their education and network to find hidden opportunities, but here are other ways you can help move women forward:
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