Women Won’t Have Equal Pay Until 2058

We probably won’t see equal pay for women in this lifetime. Let that sink in for a minute.

03.12.15 4:00 AM ET

Women don’t make as much as men—and might not in your lifetime.

In a new study released Thursday, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research uses Census trend data to predict when each state will close their gender wage gap. Based on each state’s rate of progress from 1959 to current day, the group estimates the national wage gap will close sometime in the year 2058—or 43 years from now.

Florida will be the first state to close its wage gap, but even that will take nearly a quarter-century (2038), according to the projections. California (2042), Maryland (2042), Arizona (2044), and Nevada (2044) round out the top five.

As for the holdups, five states won’t close their gaps until the 22nd century. A baby girl born today in these states—West Virginia (2101), Utah (2102), Louisiana (2106), North Dakota (2104), and Wyoming (2159)—won’t live long enough to see income equality. As the group notes in its findings, at the current rate, not even millennial women will see wage equality during their working lives.

The authors’ starting figure—that much cited factoid of women earning 70-some cents for every dollar of a man’s paycheck—is itself a contentious one. Detractors argue that occupational segregation, education, and lifestyle choices freely made by some women explain this wage discrepancy—choices like taking a break from work to have children, or working fewer hours to raise them. Studies that do take these conditions into consideration narrow the gap to between 5 and 12 percent, or between 88 and 95 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Jessica Milli, one of the study’s data analysts and a senior research associate at IWPR, confirms that the numbers do not control for differences in occupations. That said, it’s clear in the study that men are far more likely to be in white-collar, high-paying jobs than their female counterparts. Of the multiple factors compounding to widen this wage gap, women’s choice of industry is a big one.

“Women are definitely underrepresented in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math],” says Milli. “Those tend to pay a lot.” In 2014 Forbes released a list of the top paying STEM jobs for college graduates, which included a drilling engineer job with a median pay of $113,900—nearly three times the average median pay for college graduates.

An IWPR analysis of the 2013 American Community Survey found that just 4.6 percent of women work in STEM occupations, compared to 10.3 percent of men. It’s one of the fastest-growing industry categories in America, bringing in an overall median salary of $78,000 for men and $64,000 for women. The authors cite this “occupational segregation” as a major hindrance to women reaching equality in the workplace.

While some of the wage gap may boil down to fewer females in high-paying fields, Milli says the gap is also impacted by the lack of workplace policies that support women. “The pay gap is much larger for women who have children versus women who don’t,” says Milli. “That really reflects the fact that even though gender roles are changing they’re not changing fast enough.”

Nowhere is this lack of support for female in the workplace more apparent than the lack of guaranteed paid maternity leave in the U.S.—the only developed nation without it. “Women still take on a disproportionate part of the care burden and have to take more time off,” says Milli. “This has huge implications for their earnings, and their overall experience in the workplace.”

To further illustrate the gravity of this problem, the authors calculated the cumulative lost wages due to the nationwide gender gap. Among women born between 1955 and 1959 who worked full-time, year-round, total lost wages exceeds $530,000. For female college graduates the losses are even greater. According to their notes, by the time a college-educated woman turns 59, she will have lost nearly $800,000.

If there is one aspect of the study that Milli finds encouraging, it’s the rate of education for females. “Women are earning the majority of college degrees in the U.S.,” she says. “This might have some positive implications because these women may then start earning more.”

But even this statistic comes with a downside. The gap of earnings is widest for those women with the highest level of education. Women with bachelor’s degrees earn 71.4 percent of what their male counterparts make. Women with graduate degrees? Just over 69 percent. Wage gaps, it seems, are a dish best served brainy.