The gender pay gap is typically referred to in monetary terms, measuring how much women earn for every dollar a man earns.
But that gap is also indirectly a marker of time, since women on average earn less and therefore have to work longer just to break even with men.
How much longer? Enter Equal Pay Day — an approximate measure of just how many months into the new year a woman has to work for her earnings to catch up with what a man made in the prior year.
This year, Equal Pay Day falls on March 14. That means the average full-time working woman has to work about two and a half months more than the average man just to bring in what he earned last year.
That’s based on the most recent estimate of the gender pay gap from the Census Bureau, which was 84 cents among full-time, year-round workers. When part-time, seasonal and gig workers are also counted, the gap grows wider — and the time to catch up gets longer.
The good news is the pay gap has been shrinking, albeit slowly, over the past two decades. And Equal Pay Day, inaugurated in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, now arrives about a month earlier than it used to. Back in 2005, for instance, Equal Pay Day was April 19.
The bad news is that Equal Pay Day is even still a thing in 2023, since pay equity remains a long way off.
Equal Pay Day varies widely for different groups
The actual marking of Equal Pay Day in March for women overall is largely symbolic, in part because the date varies widely by race and ethnicity, occupation, geography, age and other issues.
“March 14 is the launch of an entire year of Equal Pay Days that will highlight pay gaps experienced by women of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender identity, and by those who are also mothers,” said Noreen Farrell, the chair of the advocacy group Equal Pay Today.
For instance, the group notes that Equal Pay Day this year, relative to the average earnings of a White man, will come on April 5 for women who are Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, on July 27 for Black women, on October 5 for Latina women and on November 30 for Native and Indigenous women.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research publishes an annual report breaking down the pay gap by occupation. The upshot in its latest analysis: “In 2022, women earned less than men for full-time weekly work in almost all occupations, including in 19 of the largest 20 occupations for women, and in all of the largest 20 occupations for men.”
In other words, even in fields where women dominate they still earn less than men save for one job: Teaching assistant. That is the only occupation for which IWPR found no gender difference in median weekly earnings for women and men working full time.
Perpetual pay gaps mean large financial losses over time
The gender pay gap amounts to big losses in income not just for individual women, but for their families too.
That constrains their ability to build financial security over time, and increases the risk that they will need to take on debt just to cover basic expenses and emergencies. The effect of lower wages during a woman’s career also will result in a smaller Social Security check in retirement.
Take the current pay gap, which amounts to $9,954 in median earnings for a year, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The group notes that this difference in one woman’s life could pay for all of the following and then some: two months of child care ($1,883), three months of rent ($3,573), three months of health insurance premiums ($1,544), two months of student loan payments ($544) and six tanks of gas ($316).
The NWLC also estimates that today’s gender pay gap can mean a loss of nearly $400,000 for women and their families over a 40-year career. For minority women, the loss is much greater: roughly $1 million over a lifetime.