Gender pay gap top workplace concern for U.S. women: Survey

U.S. gap closing at snail's pace

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Rose Lerini builds boilers at construction sites in western Pennsylvania alongside men who take home more money than she does each week.

Although their salaries are the same, her male colleagues are offered overtime and premium shifts while women are passed over by managers doling out the lucrative assignments, she says. "They'll say, 'This guy's got a family to feed' or 'That guy's car broke down and he needs the money,'" she said. "There's always some kind of reason."

For Lerini and many women in the United States, the gender pay gap is their biggest workplace concern, according to a poll of more than 9,500 women in the G20 nations by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

The pay gap is also cited as the major concern for women in Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Brazil and Australia, according to the survey on the key issues facing women at work released on Tuesday. Overall, the survey conducted by international pollster Ipsos MORI found four in every 10 women list equal pay among the most important workplace issues. That concern grows with age, the study found.

While 43 per cent of women under age 35 are confident of earning equal pay, confidence drops to 34 per cent for women aged 50 to 64. The loss of confidence is not misplaced, according to research by the American Association of University Women. Women typically make about 90 per cent of men's earnings until around age 35 but from then to retirement, they make just 75 to 80 per cent of what men are paid, the AAUW said.

Overall, U.S. women working full-time, year-round, are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to men with full-time, year-round jobs, according to the latest Census Bureau data. Such measurable gaps underscore the issue, said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, director of research and policy analysis at the National Women's Law Center in Washington. "There's a sense of deep unfairness about it," Robbins said. "They are making so much less."


Among the Group of 20 leading economies, Australia, France, Canada and the United States led the way in the female-to-male ratio of estimated earned income, according to World Economic Forum (WEF) data. At the bottom were India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Mexico, the WEF said.

Nevertheless, in the United States women expect equal pay. "There's awareness there," said Teresa Boyer of Rutgers University's Center for Women and Work in New Jersey. "That's a positive thing." The pay gap made headlines when actress Patricia Arquette called for wage equality for women "once and for all" in her acceptance speech at the 2014 Academy Awards, experts said.

Only three in 10 U.S. women are confident they earn at least as much as men, the survey found. Such concern stems in large part from expectations, said Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University. "It is not correlated with the size of the pay gap, clearly, but the perception about what is and is not fair," Bohnet said.

The U.S. gap is closing at a snail's pace.

If it moves at the same pace it has since 1960, it will take 45 more years - until 2059 - for women's and men's pay to be equal, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

The worldwide gap is closing even more slowly.

Using the WEF global gender gap index, measuring pay, workforce participation, education, health and political presence, it will take at least another 80 years for wage disparities to disappear. Lerini, 41, said she well knows how tough it is to chip away at the tenacious pay gap. "There's really nothing you can do except voice your opinion," she said. "Then they just want to get rid of you."


Kerri Sleeman worked as an engineer at a Michigan company forced into bankruptcy. As its finances were laid open, she discovered men she supervised were paid more than she was. She was not only dumbfounded but embarrassed, she said. "It's hard for people to come forward because you feel vilified, and you feel like you did something to deserve it," said Sleeman, who has testified before a U.S. Senate committee on equal pay.

Professor Lucy March has been seeking equal pay from the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law since learning she was making $40,000 a year less than her male colleagues. After a victory before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she said the case appears headed to federal court. It's a lonely fight for fear of retaliation, she said. "People whisper their support to me. But virtually no one says it in public," the 74-year-old law professor said.

As years pass, the gap compounds as women get pay increases based on previous salaries, have children or pass up advances to raise families, experts say. Working for less puts women at a disadvantage in retirement, with smaller nest eggs and lower social security benefits, experts said.

Some critics say there is no gap at all and that differences can be explained by women choosing lesser-paying college majors, entering lower-paying fields, being weaker negotiators, having children and opting for care giving over careers. But Boyer pointed to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showing a three cent wage gap between recent male and female college graduates. "There's still a number of percentage points that nobody can account for beyond bias. That still exists," she said.

The survey was carried out online by Ipsos Global @dvisor from July 24-Aug 7 and face-to-face in South Africa and Indonesia from Aug 6-Aug 25. Data are weighted to match the population profile of each country and the margin of error between two country sample sizes of 500 is about 6 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence interval.

Latest stories