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New Research

Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap

By Jessica Arons, Center for American Progress Action Fund
December 8, 2008

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In 2007, Lilly Ledbetter gained attention when the Supreme Court denied her back pay and other compensation for unequal wages and sex-based discrimination at work. The Court’s decision deprived her of the $223,776 in additional wages she would have earned had she been a man.

Unfortunately, even in the absence of intentional discrimination, most women in this country also are likely to lose substantial amounts of income due to something we at the Center for American Progress Action Fund have termed the “career wage gap.”

The more commonly known gender wage gap is the annual difference in median wages between men and women who are employed full-time. The career wage gap looks at how the current annual gender wage gap accumulates over a 40-year period. It thus provides us with an estimate for lost wages over a lifetime of work.

Career Gender Pay Gap

According to our analysis:

1. Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, due to the career wage gap.

2. Women at all education levels lose significant amounts of income due to the career wage gap, but women with the most education lose the most in earnings.

    a. Women with a college degree or higher lose $713,000 over a 40-year period versus a $270,000 loss for women who did not finish high school.

3. Women in all occupations suffer from the career wage gap, but the gap ranges widely from one occupation to the next, with the widest gap in finance and management and the smallest gap in construction and maintenance.

4. Women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from the career wage gap no matter where they live.

    a. The gap exceeds $300,000 in 15 states, $400,000 in 22 states, and $500,000 in 11 states.

The numbers from this study demonstrate that, over a lifetime of work, women and their families face sizeable shortfalls in income as a result of the career wage gap. The study signals the urgent need for businesses and government to do much more to ensure fair pay, help women achieve economic equality, and bring increased stability to our economy.

Read the full report (pdf)

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