One reason the gender pay gap is shrinking? Men’s wages are falling

Watch out for falling wages.
Watch out for falling wages.
Image: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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The gender pay gap in the US is an ugly reality.

For every dollar men make, women make 83 cents, and progress toward closing it has largely stalled in recent years. If there’s good news, it’s that the gap has closed considerably since 1979, when women made 62 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute.

Unfortunately, one reason the spread has narrowed is not because women are earning more, although they are, but because men are making less. According to the EPI’s analysis of US government wage data, men’s inflation adjusted hourly wages have fallen 6.7% since 1979, even as women’s have increased 24%.

In another study, the EPI stresses that the decline of men’s wages since 1979 is not because women earned more, but the result of broad changes in the US economy. Among the factors at play: deregulation of industries and weaker labor laws, globalization and a strong dollar that sent manufacturing jobs overseas, and weaker unions. Women were also affected by those forces, but their gains in education and increased legal protections helped overcome them.

The gender gap is narrower when men and women in the same job with the same experience are compared—as low as 5%, according to a survey by Glassdoor. However, those comparisons don’t account for the discrimination that shapes women’s education and occupation choices, which means women often don’t have the same positions as men, according to Elise Gould, the author of the EPI study.

One reason the gap persists, and why progress is slowing, is the so-called motherhood penalty, which shows up when women take time off after childbirth. Mothers are paid 4.6% less then women without kids, if all else is equal.

As Gould notes in the study, society still expects women to carry the child-raising load, so they work fewer hours then fathers. In fact, men with children work more hours then men without kids. Which is another reason why paternity leave and child-friendly work places policies are good for everyone.