Does the pay gap get worse over time?

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 was signed into law to mandate pay equity between men and women. Unfortunately, research shows that, in the long term, it doesn’t always happen.

A new study covering a 15-year period highlighted that women earn less than half what men earn. Between 2001 and 2015, women earned 49 percent on average of what men made.

Motherhood penalties and fatherhood bonuses

This is a much larger gap than the typical number we hear for the pay gap between men and women, which is about 80 cents. While there are instances where women earn more than men, these cases have unusual circumstances that factor into the inverse result.

One reason is that women earn less is that women often receive a “penalty” for dropping out of the workforce temporarily to raise small children, and the study found that is an increasing problem. At the same time, there is data that suggests men receive a “fatherhood bonus” when they become parents.

What can we do?

Some of these trends can be reversed by expanding access to paid leave and affordable child care, according to the study. This would allow more women who want to keep working with small children at home to stay in the workforce, which would reduce the “penalty” many of them experience when they go back to work.

Another strategy is to better enforce Title IX equality laws in the workplace and schools. Making it easier for women to enter high-paying fields typically dominated by men, with less scrutiny from colleagues and professors, would make a difference.

Those, however, are long-term solutions. It does little to help women who currently work at companies that are paying them less than their male coworkers. Employees who are seeking the right to equal pay under the EPA have the right to pursue action against an employer exhibiting discriminatory behaviors that are not compliant with the law.

Hopefully awareness of the long-term issues contributing to the pay gap becomes more widespread and resolves the inequity before more young women enter the workforce. In the meantime, women in the workforce now can advocate for their right to equal pay and push employers to follow the EPA. 

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