The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team shows us just how much is at stake in the gender wage gap

Looking ahead to Equal Pay Day later this month, five top female U.S. soccer players made headlines for filing a case against U.S. Soccer for wage discrimination. Even while they have received far higher honors in soccer fame than the men’s national team, the players contend that they earn as little as 40 percent of their male counterparts. For example, the players claim that a men’s U.S. soccer player can earn as much as $8,166 extra for a win at an exhibition game—a women’s player, meanwhile, receives as little as $1,350 extra for winning a similar match.

While this case is high profile, the fact is that the gender pay gap exists across occupations and throughout the economy and that gaps between men’s and women’s pay can add up to a substantial amount over time. Equal Pay Day is April 12 this year because it marks how far into 2016 women would have to work to earn the same amount that men earned in the 2015. Depending on factors like occupation, race, and education level, though, this date could stretch far beyond April 12 for many women.

In 2015, the typical woman’s hourly pay was only 83.3 percent of the typical men’s hourly pay. That means that the median woman earns about 83 cents on the man’s dollar. At the bottom of the wage distribution, pay is relatively more equal, as the minimum wage, though low by historical standards, still provides a wage floor that ensures working people earning it are paid at the same rate. The gap at the top of the wage distribution, meanwhile, is much larger because men disproportionately hold jobs in higher paying occupations, which tend to reward excessive work hours (though longer work hours do not necessarily translate to higher per hour productivity). Additionally, women are more likely to be perceived as less dedicated to their careers, regardless of whether they work the same hours as their male counterparts, (i.e. gender discrimination), which can lead to huge losses in earnings over the course of their careers in the form of forgone promotions and pay raises.

Figure A

The gender wage gap is largest among top earners: Women’s hourly wages as a share of men’s at various wage percentiles, 1979–2015

10th percentile 50th percentile 95th percentile
1979-01-01 86.7% 62.7% 62.9%
1980-01-01 83.2% 63.4% 64.8%
1981-01-01 88.7% 64.2% 63.6%
1982-01-01 88.9% 64.8% 64.8%
1983-01-01 89.3% 66.5% 62.9%
1984-01-01 87.2% 67.4% 64.1%
1985-01-01 85.8% 67.1% 63.2%
1986-01-01 84.7% 66.9% 66.2%
1987-01-01 83.5% 69.1% 65.8%
1988-01-01 81.5% 71.1% 68.0%
1989-01-01 81.3% 73.1% 71.9%
1990-01-01 83.4% 74.4% 72.7%
1991-01-01 86.8% 74.9% 72.8%
1992-01-01 89.7% 76.2% 73.9%
1993-01-01 90.9% 77.6% 74.4%
1994-01-01 90.8% 78.4% 76.3%
1995-01-01 88.2% 76.7% 76.6%
1996-01-01 87.2% 77.6% 77.0%
1997-01-01 87.0% 79.0% 75.2%
1998-01-01 89.4% 78.2% 76.7%
1999-01-01 87.6% 76.9% 77.0%
2000-01-01 87.3% 78.0% 75.6%
2001-01-01 87.3% 78.5% 75.7%
2002-01-01 89.6% 80.1% 76.2%
2003-01-01 89.4% 81.0% 76.8%
2004-01-01 89.3% 81.8% 75.3%
2005-01-01 88.3% 82.0% 77.2%
2006-01-01 88.8% 82.2% 77.9%
2007-01-01 89.9% 81.5% 77.2%
2008-01-01 90.3% 82.6% 77.0%
2009-01-01 92.3% 81.7% 74.6%
2010-01-01 92.9% 83.3% 76.8%
2011-01-01 93.4% 84.0% 77.9%
2012-01-01 91.7% 82.8% 74.5%
2013-01-01 91.8% 83.4% 76.1%
2014-01-01 90.9% 82.9% 78.6%
2015-01-01 92.2% 83.3%  73.0% 


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Note: The xth-percentile wage is the wage at which x% of wage earners earn less and (100-x)% earn more.

Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata

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Gender wage gaps also exist across all levels of education. Even among the most educated workers—those with an advanced degree—large wage-gaps persist, with women making only 73.4 percent of men’s hourly wages. Among those with a college degree, women make 75.2 percent of male earnings. For those with a high school degree, women make 78.3 cents on the high-school-educated man’s dollar.

Figure B

Women earn less than men at every education level: Average hourly wages, by gender and education, 2015

Education level Men’s hourly wages Women’s hourly wages
Less than high school $13.93 $10.89
High school $18.61 $14.57
Some college $20.95 $16.59
College $35.23 $26.51
Advanced degree $45.84 $33.65
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SourceEPI analysis of Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata

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One of the agenda items of our initiative to Raise America’s Pay is to end discriminatory practices that contribute to such gender inequalities. We need consistently strong enforcement of antidiscrimination laws in the hiring, promotion, and pay of women and workers of color. This includes greater transparency in the ways these decisions are made and ensuring that the processes available for workers to pursue any violation of their rights are effective.

But the gender wage gap is not the only way the economy short changes women, and addressing gender discrimination in the workplace is just one among many policies we can use to improve the lives of women and working families generally. EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda provides a road map for how we can spur women’s wages to catch up with men’s while also boosting all workers’ wages to return to rising in line with productivity growth. These policies include providing working people with paid sick and family leave, making quality child care accessible and affordable to parents, and strengthening the power of working people to secure better wages. Only when we take a holistic approach to women’s wages and seek to close both the gender gap and the gap between productivity and typical workers’ pay will women reach their full potential in the economy.