A Look at Gender Pay Disparity

The issue of the gender pay gap is complex: Trying to briefly capture the experience of millions of people in dozens of industries is difficult. Study results vary depending on which variables are examined, which are controlled for, and other factors.

First, let’s look at two measures of the pay gap between women and men. A report by PayScale (1) in March, 2020 provided a comprehensive analysis that has frequently been cited.

Controlled pay gap: When data were controlled for job title, years of experience, industry, location, and other compensable factors, “women made $.98 for every $1 a man makes.”  The study noted that “this disparity has decreased since 2015, but only by $.01.”  

Uncontrolled pay gap: When the uncontrolled gender pay gap was examined, which took the ratio of the median earnings of women to men without controlling for various compensable factors, women made only $.81 for every dollar a man made.  This disparity “has only decreased by $.07 since 2015.”

One can argue that the controlled gender pay gap is an unfair statistic to use.  For example, if a job title is controlled for, it doesn’t take into account why men obtain jobs with higher job titles and subsequently higher pay.  If industry is controlled for, it doesn’t explain why men more than women are drawn to specific higher-paying industries.  Extensive research has been conducted in these areas, including by AAUW, to learn about and address these disparities.

With the controlled and uncontrolled pay gap data as a starting point, let’s touch on two areas that have a bearing on gender pay disparity: The Covid-19 pandemic and couples’ decisions about child rearing/household chores. We’ll then review current legislation that would narrow the pay gap.

The pandemic:  According to figures by Diana Boesch and Shilpa Phadke of the Center for American Progress (2), during the first 10 months of the pandemic, women lost a net of 5.4 million jobs. This amounted to nearly 1 million more job losses than men.  Women of color and those who live below the federal poverty level were hit hardest (3). Besides currently having a devastating effect, this is certain to affect the gender pay gap for at least the next decade. 

Couples’ decisions about child rearing/household chores: The uncontrolled gender pay gap, especially between college-educated men and women, increases dramatically over time, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (4).  While the gender earnings gap is fairly small at age 25 and does not differ much across education groups, by age 45 the gap is significantly larger, especially for the college educated. Sari Kerr, one of the study’s authors, noted that “one person focuses on career, and the other one does the lion’s share of the work at home” (5). Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center (6) indicated that women are considerably more likely to ask for reduced hours, take a significant amount of time off, and turn down a promotion. 

Current legislation to narrow the wage gap:  AAUW is a strong proponent of the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Raise the Wage Act, and the Family Act.  In addition, the 1.9 trillion American Rescue Act, passed by the House of Representatives on February 27, helps women who have lost their jobs and women who struggle to pay for childcare. If you do one thing, urge your representatives to support these bills.


  1. “The State of the Gender Pay Gap 2020,” PayScale, March 24, 2020 https://www.payscale.com/data/gender-pay-gap
  2. Diana Boesch and Shilpa Phadke, “When Women Lose All the Jobs:  Essential Actions For A Gender-Equitable Recovery,” Center for American Progress, February 1, 2021.
  3. Shilpa Phadke and Diana Boesch, “Treading water:  The Current Challenges of Women’s Work,” Center for American Progress, January 18, 2019
  4. Erling Barth, Sari Pekkal Kerr and Claudia Olivett, “The Dynamics of Gender Earnings Differentials:  Evidence from Establishment Data, National Bureau of Economic Research,” Issue Date May 2017, Revision Date July 2019
  5. Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times, “The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood,” May 13, 2017
  6. “Raising Kids and Running a Household:  How Working Parents Share the Load,” Pew Research Center, November 4, 2015