In 2014, women made about $0.79 for every dollar men made, which is a damn sight better than 1965 or even 1995, when they made $0.60 and $0.71 for every dollar, respectively. But even though things are generally headed in the right direction, in the past decade, the amount women make compared to men has only gone up by two cents — compared to the relative increase in womens’ wages in previous years, that’s tiny.
A new essay from researchers Martha J. Bailey and Thomas A. DiPrete, which is part of a newly released collection of papers from the Russell Sage Foundation, helps to explain why women are no longer catching up to men when it comes to pay. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman, it’s because men work more hours than women.
“If you were an American man working full-time in 1984, you earned, on average, a bit more than $22 an hour (adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars),” Casselman writes. “If you were particularly ambitious, or particularly in need of cash, you could make more money by working more hours, but on a per-hour basis, you’d still be making about the same — a bit more than $22 per hour.” He goes on:
Fast-forward to 2015, though, and the picture looks a lot different. The average man working a typical full-time job, 35 to 49 hours a week, now earns about $26 an hour. But the man working 50 hours a week or more now earns close to $33 an hour. Hourly pay has risen more than twice as fast over the past three decades for men working long hours, as employers increasingly reward employees willing to work extra hours with raises or promotions. (The pattern crosses educational and industry lines, and holds when excluding overtime pay.)
The problem is that this pattern does not extend to women, who, for a variety of reasons, are less likely to work longer hours. For one thing, women are still overwhelmingly the primary caregivers for children, and women with children work 24 percent fewer hours per week than men or than women without children. Highly educated men are also expected to work longer and harder than their female counterparts, and women still spend more time than men on housework.
All these factors contribute to women spending less time working, which stunts their earning power. And although government policies such as affordable child care could help to reverse the trend, closing the pay gap is ultimately a matter of changing our collective cultural mind-set when it comes to working women. Until then, we’ll have to fall back on our handy pay-gap clocks.