In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which states that wages shall be equal or competitive when all employees perform the same or very similar work within that establishment.
In other words, if a company hires two electricians, one female and the other male, and they have the same duties, they should be paid the same wages.
At that time, women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by men, across all industries and regions in the United States. Currently, women earn approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men across industries and regions.
Some states have narrower wage gaps than others — and within states, wage gaps vary as well.
5 States With the Smallest Gender Wage Gaps
The five states with the smallest gender wage gaps are:
5. Rhode Island – women earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by men
4. California – women earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by men
3. Nevada – women earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by men
2. Maryland – women earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by men
1. Vermont – women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men
Washington, DC has a narrower wage gap than any of the states, with women in the nation’s capital earning 90 cents for every dollar earned by men.
5 States With the Largest Gender Wage Gaps
The five states with the largest gender wage gaps are:
5. North Dakota – women earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by men
4. West Virginia – women earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by men
3. Utah – women earn 69 cents for every dollar earned by men
2. Louisiana – women earn 69 cents for every dollar earned by men
1. Wyoming – women earn 67 cents for every dollar earned by men
Industries With the Largest Wage Gaps
According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry with the largest gender wage gap is financial activities, where women earn an average of 70.5 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Other industries with the largest wage gaps include manufacturing (73.8 cents), information (75.8 cents), and wholesale/retail (76 cents).
Industries With the Narrowest Wage Gaps
The construction industry has the narrowest wage gap overall, with women earning 92.2 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Other industries with the narrowest wage gaps include agriculture (84.6 cents), leisure and hospitality (83.5 cents), mining/quarry/oil and gas extraction (79.7 cents), and transportation and utilities (78.6 cents).
Industries Where Women Earn More than Men
In some industries, women out-earn men.
Women sales engineers earn $1.43 for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, with women statisticians ($1.35), legislators ($1.33), women in “other” transportation services ($1.30), and automotive service technicians ($1.29) also out-earning men in their respective professions.
Younger and Older Women
The pay gap is narrowest for the youngest women in the workforce, with women age 20 to 24 earning 93.2 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same age group.
Women age 55 to 64 have the largest pay gap, earning only 75.1 cents for every dollar earned by men in that age group.
The gender wage gap doesn’t just affect women. For men in families with female partners who work, if she isn’t earning as much as men doing the same job, it affects the entire family’s finances.
Single mothers who aren’t earning as much as male counterparts aren’t able to provide as generously for their families as single fathers in the same job.
In 2010, a report presented to the US Congress Joint Economic Committee stated that studies on causes of the gender wage gap “always find that some portion of the wage gap is unexplained” even when measurable factors believed to influence earnings are controlled for.
Economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell University have stated that the part of the wage gap that is unexplainable by these human capital variables may actually be increasing.
Studies have in fact found that employers respond less frequently to identical resumes if they have female names attached, and that when orchestras moved toward “blind” auditions (with the candidate behind a curtain) in the 1990s, more jobs started going to female musicians.
The gender gap won’t go away on its own, but may require legislative and judicial redress, greater transparency about wages in the private sector, and empowerment of women to understand the true worth of their abilities and develop strong negotiating skills.
Females now account for about 60% of new graduates with bachelor’s degrees, and professionals at the highest reaches of government, like Dr. Pamela Coukos, senior program advisor with the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs says that the Labor Department plans to rescind outdated guidance on protecting workers from pay discrimination and help women better understand their worth in the workplace.
Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.