Even in the year 2023, dishearteningly, gender pay disparity continues to persist within the workforce for women. A recent analysis conducted by Pew Research Center indicates that in 2022, women earned approximately 82% of what their male counterparts earned. This figure bears a striking resemblance to the wage gap observed two decades ago in 2002. The fact that such a discrepancy remains unchanged over such a prolonged period is a cause for concern and emphasizes the need for concerted efforts to address this ongoing issue.
Notably, the younger population experiences a relatively smaller wage gap. Women aged 25–34 earn approximately 8 cents less for every dollar earned by men in a similar age bracket. This represents a narrower wage disparity, compared to that of the overall workforce, where the gap is around 18 cents.
Cracking the Pay Gap: Perceived Pay Disparity Factors
From the 1980s to the 2000s, increased educational access for women and expanded employment opportunities seemed to account for the narrowing gender pay gap. However, the current landscape tells a different story.
As part of the Pew Research Center’s analysis, the team conducted a survey among US adults, asking them to identify potential reasons for the gender pay gap. Respondents ranked three possible explanations in the following order:
- Employer bias toward women, resulting in differential treatment
- Women’s personal choices regarding work and family
- Women’s tendency to work in lower-paying occupations
When surveyed, most US adults expressed their belief that employers’ differential treatment of women significantly contributes to gender pay disparity. But the results paint a dynamic picture, showcasing how different groups perceive the issue, as summarized in the following figure. Notably, women and Democrats were more inclined than men (61% vs 37%) or Republicans (68% vs 30%) to identify employer bias as the major reason for the gap.
Balancing Act: The Gendered Pressures of Family and Career
When it comes to family caregiving responsibilities, the burdens faced by working women and men differ significantly. Research reveals that motherhood can have a detrimental impact on women’s earnings, while fatherhood can lead to an increase in men’s earnings. While both genders experience similar pressures to provide financial support and to excel in their careers, women, particularly working mothers, often feel a tremendous weight on their shoulders to prioritize household responsibilities.
Interestingly, these pressures also extend to the realm of leadership aspirations. The survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that approximately one-fourth of employed individuals currently hold positions as bosses or top managers. Additionally, 33% express a strong desire to attain such roles in the future. Men tend to outnumber women in these influential roles, with employed fathers leading the charge at 35%. Notably, women not only face lower representation in leadership positions but also more frequently express a lack of interest in pursuing such roles.
This interconnected narrative of dual pressures and diverging leadership aspirations among working men and women highlights the persistent gender disparity that exists both in family caregiving and in career advancement. The ongoing disparity underscores the need for continued efforts to address and overcome societal barriers that limit women’s opportunities for professional growth so that we can create a more equitable landscape for all.
Dr. Kanika Khanna is a Life Sciences Research Foundation postdoctoral scholar in University of California, Berkeley. In the lab, she studies the molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions using highresolution microscopy tools. Outside the lab, she is passionate about scientific communication, open science and science advocacy.