Here's everything you need to know about the gender pay gap and how it affects women.
The gender pay gap may appear to be an individual issue — a man simply earning more than a woman due to merit, experience, or some other legitimate factor — until you look at the data.
According to the World Economic Forum, the gender pay gap exists worldwide and in nearly all industries and professions, regardless of objective factors that should influence income (WEF).
According to the WEF, women earn 68% of what men earn for the same work globally, and 40% in countries with the lowest gender parity.
According to the WEF, closing the pay gap and achieving global pay equity will take an estimated 257 years at the current rate of progress. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated matters by disproportionately affecting women in the economic sphere. In fact, research suggests that the pandemic will widen the gender pay gap by 5%.
"Achieving true gender equality — in law, practice, the home, and the economy — is a challenge that this generation must rise to," says Aaron Holtz, Global Citizen's director for gender equality and inclusion. "In order to achieve the UN's Global Goals and reap the benefits of a more equitable and fair world, society must place a higher value on the talents and contributions of women and girls."
The majority of countries around the world have laws in place to ensure equal pay for equal work — but these laws are not always followed correctly. Meanwhile, the legal requirement for equality is only one aspect of the problem.
The gender pay gap is systemic: it reflects widespread misogyny in patriarchal societies, where men's contributions are valued more than women's — even when performing the same role — combined with a cultural norm that directs women and girls toward lower paying and lower valued occupations.
Misogyny has a negative impact on individuals and communities, and it can have a direct impact on many important aspects of life, including educational outcomes, access to health and social services, and political inclusion and representation.
The gender pay gap is a manifestation of gender injustice that undermines larger efforts to achieve gender equality. It frequently prevents women from achieving economic security and independence, for example, and can limit their and their families' ability to lift themselves out of poverty, as well as hindering women and girls' ability to participate fully and equally in the economy and wider society.
On the surface, it doesn't make sense. After all, why should men be paid more than women for equal work?
The gender pay gap occurs for a variety of reasons.
At its most basic, it involves direct pay discrimination: men are paid more than their female colleagues for equal work for no reason other than their gender.
For example, the female stars of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory reportedly earned one-fifth of what their male colleagues did before discovering the truth and demanding equal pay.
But it isn't just a problem in the entertainment industry. In the United States and many other countries, women earn less than men in nearly every profession, from nursing to teaching to software engineering.
Working women frequently face a "pregnancy penalty" without strong worker protections such as parental and family leave.
This can include being fired or passed over for a promotion because of a pregnancy, experiencing discrimination or a lack of opportunities while pregnant, or having difficulty reentering the workforce after giving birth.
Furthermore, women continue to bear a disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic labor, such as child-rearing and household responsibilities — systemic issues that lead to lower earning potential for women because it prevents them from focusing on their careers with the same intensity as men.
But it's not just pay inequality; there's also opportunity inequality. In many countries, women are discouraged from entering the labour force and are barred from working in certain professions.
In recent years, the gender pay gap has sparked heated public debate, and champions from a variety of professions have emerged.
The US women's soccer team has demanded pay comparable to their male counterparts; Hollywood actresses have called for an end to massive pay disparities; and journalists at institutions such as the BBC have discovered glaring disparities in pay.
At a more grassroots level, women-led organisations are advocating for pay equity that takes into account intersectional issues.
In the United Kingdom, the #MeTooPay campaign was launched in October 2019 to demand pay equity after a story about a female banker who was paid significantly less than her male colleagues made headlines.
While the gender pay gap affects all women, women from historically marginalised groups are particularly affected.
In the United States, Black and Latina women are generally paid less than white and Asian women. Trans women face widespread pay discrimination and other employment barriers, and women with disabilities are frequently paid a fraction of what their peers earn and have limited employment opportunities.
Efforts to address these wage disparities are focused on a few key areas.
First, laws that enforce pay equity can effectively root out wage disparities and ensure better frameworks are in place to achieve greater workplace equality. As countries recover from the pandemic, economic recovery plans that benefit women can be developed.
In addition to legal reform, activists around the world are attempting to persuade companies to voluntarily commit to pay equity, a pledge that dozens of companies in the United States have already made.
Recruiting and promoting women to leadership positions within companies also helps to reduce the gender pay gap because it allows women to influence corporate culture and decision-making, including directly influencing pay grades and wider equity.
On a larger scale, initiatives that encourage women to pursue specific careers and provide mentorship and guidance can lead to greater representation in higher-paying fields.
According to studies, girls are discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) subjects from elementary school onwards.
Income transparency measures within and across industries are another way to promote pay equity. Women can better negotiate starting salaries and raises if they have access to their peers' pay ranges. Income transparency also holds companies accountable by highlighting unfair and sexist practices.
Ending the gender pay gap means ensuring that men and women are paid fairly and equitably for the work they do.
However, in addition to addressing the UN's Global Goal for gender equality, improving the rights of women and girls addresses many of the root causes of extreme poverty and inequality globally.
Improving gender equality would help with things like improving women's health, ending domestic violence, enabling female entrepreneurship, and much more.
When women achieve financial security, their lives, prospects, and opportunities improve, as do those of their families, communities, and societies.
It is past time to close the gender pay gap and ensure that women and girls can finally achieve equality with their male counterparts.