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Life choices aren't to blame for the gender pay gap

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A new report pushes back on the argument that the significant disparity in wages paid to men and women is due to women’s life choices.

The fact that women in the U.S. only make 78 percent as much as men cannot solely be attributed to life choices, including leaving the workforce to raise children, says a study authored by the American Association of University Women.

The study points out that one year after graduation from college, women make 18 percent less than male peers of the same education level and work experience. That is partially due to the fact that more women go into fields that do not promise high pay, such as teaching, but the report claims that even when such factors are controlled for, women make 7 percent less in exactly the same jobs as men fresh out of college.

While the pay disparities are smaller for young people, the authors suggest that the gap only widens as workers age. Wages for men grow faster as they age than they do for women.

Similarly discouraging is evidence that the pay gap actually increases with education level. Although workers of all genders typically earn more as a result of education, the disparity between men and women only increases. While women who lack high school degrees make 80 percent of the average male drop out, women with graduate degrees only make 74 percent of their male peers. 

There is a greater pay disparity between white men and women than there is between the genders in other ethnic and racial groups. Black women earn 90 percent of what black men make, but their pay is only 63 percent of the average white man’s. Similarly, Hispanic women make 89 percent of what Hispanic men earn, but only 54 percent of what white men make.

In every state of the country, women make less money than men, but the disparities are significantly greater in some places.

Washington D.C., where women make 90 cents for every dollar earned by men, comes closest to gender parity. Right behind the nation’s capital is New York, where women earn an average of 87 percent as much as men.

At the bottom are Wyoming, Utah and Louisiana, where women only earn 69, 67, and 65 percent as much as men, respectively.

The AAUW used the report to push for more policies aimed at reducing gender discrimination in the workplace. It highlighted proposals that forbid employers from asking prospective employees about their pay history as a possible way to prevent the hiring process from reinforcing existing disparities.

See also:

7 reasons women face greater retirement challenges than men

The jobs with the highest gender pay gaps

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