Gender Pay Gap Narrows in 2021, but Progress Is Slow

Off the Charts: The Visual Says It All

A woman in a hard hat and work vest on a construction site outdoors.
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The pay gap between women and men narrowed for the third year in 2021, but the gain was relatively small once again, the most recent government data showed.

A woman earned 83.1% of what a man did in 2021, up from 82.4% in 2020 and the most since at least 1979, as far back as the Bureau of Labor Statistics data goes. But as the chart below shows, recent progress has been small and uneven.

Much of the pay gap historically has been attributed to differences in education levels, the notion that some jobs are more likely to be dominated by one gender or the other (and that traditionally female occupations are less valuable and therefore pay less), and the idea that women are more likely to leave the workforce to take on traditional caregiving roles in the family. 

The last one of those may be a myth, however. A recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that women start at a disadvantage right out of school. Women graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2020 earned an average of $52,266, compared with $64,022 for men, according to the study.

The latest pay gap data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, released this week, also showed the pay gap between men and women of the same ethnicity. Black women have closed in fastest on their male counterparts, earning 94.1% of what Black men earned last year, up from 89% in 2018 and 92% in 2020. White women earned 82.2% of what White men earned, up from 81.5% in both 2018 and 2020. Hispanic and Asian women both lost ground against their male counterparts last year; Hispanic women slipped to 87.6% from 88.5% in 2020, while Asian women dipped to 78.5% from 79%.

Correction - Jan. 25, 2022 - This story has been corrected after misstating how far back the data goes and correcting the 2020 percentage for a rounding issue.

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Article Sources

  1. Pew Research Center. “Gender Pay Gap in US Held Steady in 2020.” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  2. Oxford Academic. “Occupational Feminization and Pay: Assessing Causal Dynamics Using 1950–2000 US Census Data.” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  3. National Association of Colleges and Employers. “NACE Research: Pay Inequity Based on Gender Begins at the Start of Career.” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Median Earnings for Women in 2021 Were 83.1 Percent of the Median for Men : The Economics Daily.” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.