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If you still believe the gender pay gap is a myth, you’re not alone – but several recent studies say you’re wrong.
Forty-six percent of men and 30 percent of women believe it’s made up “to serve a political purpose,” according to a study by poll platform SurveyMonkey. 
It’s true that positive strides have been made in the workforce. But women still only earn 85 cents to a man’s dollar on average, according to the Pew Research Center. 
Whether you like it or not, the gender pay gap is real – and it may not close for women of all colors until 2248, the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy says. 
Here’s how it affects women’s careers, retirement savings, and mental health – and how equal financial opportunities for all could help the economy.
Women are penalized more than men for negotiating. People are less likely to like them; if they negotiate in a job interview, they are less likely to hire them.Linda Babcock, Carnegie Mellon University professor
The facts about the gender pay gap
A woman may make less than a man on average, but that’s not the whole story.
Black women make 62 percent of what white men do, while Hispanic women make 54 cents for every dollar, according to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee (JEC).  And the numbers aren’t much better globally – women around the world earn 16 percent less than men, says a global survey from consulting firm Korn Ferry. 
This makes a significant difference when you add it up: Women earn an average of $10,500 less per year than their male peers, which can add up to half a million dollars over the course of a career, the JEC says.
And how high you climb in that career can be predetermined by whether you’re a man or a woman.
But when women are given the same job position, the wage gap closes significantly. Job site Glassdoor compared male and female workers with the same job title, employer, and location, and the gender pay gap fell to 4.9 percent – or 95.1 cents per dollar.
How the gender pay gap affects women
The gender pay gap is a problem that stretches back for centuries and could stretch forward just as long. The hundreds of thousands of dollars that women are missing out on directly affects their lives – especially their careers, retirement, and mental health.
Even with the same major, the same graduation date, and the same entry into the workforce, there isn’t an equal playing field among male and female employees.
This is because of the two types of pay gap: group-to-group and role-to-role, according to advisory company Gartner. 
Role-to-role is what most people associate the gender pay gap with – where a man and a woman are paid differently for the same job, like a male nurse that earns more than his female counterpart.
Group-to-group, however, is where genders are separate based on who is taking what kinds of jobs, like female nurses and male doctors. Doctors make more money than nurses, and this type of gap shows an unfair level of expectations for what genders should be doing.
“When we isolate by major, pay gaps still remain, because men and women are sorting into different jobs after graduating – a clear sign of societal pressures and gender norms at play in the career paths of young workers,” says Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor chief economist.
When we isolate by major, pay gaps still remain, because men and women are sorting into different jobs after graduating – a clear sign of societal pressures and gender norms at play in the career paths of young workers. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor chief economist
The pay gap opens and closes depending on what field you’re in. Overall, the five worst paying jobs for women are insurance sales agents, physicians and surgeons, real estate brokers and sales agents, and financial service sales agents. Female personal finance advisors earn nearly $1,000 less a week than their male peers, according to financial news provider 24/7 Wall St. 
There are some attempts to stop the gender pay gap – Delaware, Oregon, and California are making it illegal to ask about your previous salary in job interviews because they think it will help close the chasm. But the new rule is doing the opposite of what they expected.
In Massachusetts, the first state to make the change, female employees who did not disclose their salary were offered 1.8 percent less money than those who did, according to the Harvard Business Review.  Meanwhile, men who didn’t disclose were being offered 1.2 percent more salary. Instead of working as designed, the laws are actually making the gap larger because of the existing biases.
And a woman’s chances of successfully fighting for a fair wage are low, too.
“Women are penalized more than men for negotiating,” Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda Babcock told National Public Radio.  “People are less likely to like them; if they negotiate in a job interview, they are less likely to hire them. There are real social sanctions that occur when women initiate negotiations.”
But sometimes women make less money simply because they’re not given the same opportunities. Despite improvements in the workforce over the past few decades, men are still 47 percent more likely than women to advance to lucrative senior management positions, according to professional service company Accenture. 
However, women do get paid higher wages in some fields, although these situations are few and far between. This is called a “reverse” pay gap, and it happens in sectors like architecture, where women earn an average of 14 percent more than their male counterparts, and the music industry, where they make 10 percent more, according to Glassdoor. 
College education actually widens the gender pay gap
A common way to increase earnings makes the wage gap more noticeable.
Women with a bachelor’s degree earn 74 cents for every dollar a man with one does, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau.  On the other hand, the government research agency’s report finds that among workers without college degrees, women earn 78 cents for every dollar men do.
“While workers with a bachelor’s degree earn about double that of their co-workers without a college education,” Census reports, “the difference between men’s and women’s earnings widens with more education.”
While workers with a bachelor’s degree earn about double that of their co-workers without a college education, the difference between men’s and women’s earnings widens with more education.U.S. Census Bureau
Over a career, all that money left behind makes it more difficult to retire.
Saving up a nest egg for your golden years is already hard enough when you’re making less money, but women have an extra disadvantage – they’re expected to live longer than men. The average life expectancy for an American man is 76, but it’s 81 for a woman, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. 
Gender savings research from investment company Fidelity says data from its 8 million customers proves women are actually better at saving and at investing. 
But this doesn’t matter when the gender pay gap is so wide. Most women only have $35,000 in median household retirement savings while their male counterparts have $115,000, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS). 
And any woman who wants to take a break from working to raise children, help parents, or just work on a meaningful project could face a retirement savings shortfall of nearly $1.3 million, according to workplace financial wellness provider Financial Finesse. 
These lower savings make an impact later on in life. A study by the National Institute on Retirement Security reveals that women are 80 percent more likely than men to be living in poverty at age 65 and older. 
And the retirement concerns don’t stop there. According to gender-specific research from TCRCs , which surveyed more than 6,000 workers about their retirement priorities…
- 53 percent of women are concerned Social Security is depleting or won’t exist in the future.
- 48 percent believe they won’t afford the basic financial needs to take care of their families.
- 47 percent stress about their health declining and needing long-term care.
- And 42 percent worry they won’t have access to adequate and affordable healthcare.
It’s no wonder that women are hunched over with stress from the weight of all these financial problems on their backs.
Fifty-four percent of working women experience stress daily compared to 47 percent of men, says a study from employer benefits company Unum – and the biggest cause of this (49 percent) is finance. 
This stress can lead to physical problems, too.
Stress impacts worker productivity and can escalate over time to more serious health concerns and absences. Greg Breter, a Unum VP
“Stress impacts worker productivity and can escalate over time to more serious health concerns and absences,” says Greg Breter, a Unum VP. “While stress may not be reported as the primary cause of absence, it’s often the underlying issue that caused or exacerbated another health condition and slowed down recovery.”
Women aren’t optimistic about their financial futures
If you ask women about their confidence in financial opportunities, most wouldn’t be optimistic, according to two recent studies – even as men’s self-assurance remains high.
A survey by female-focused media company SheKnows Media found that a quarter of women expect to never move past an entry-level position within their companies, while only 9 percent of men think the same is true for them. 
And nearly half (47 percent) of men expect to earn a six-figure salary, but only 22 percent of women do. To top it off, 40 percent of women won’t even ask for a raise.
Many women think they’ve hit a “glass ceiling” – or barrier preventing them from a promotion – at their company. So what jobs do women think they can attain? Here is a breakdown of what job titles men and women think they can reach during their careers, according to a study by employment website CareerBuilder… 
- Company owner: 7 percent men vs. 6 percent women
- C suite (executive positions i.e. CEO, CFO, CTO): 6 percent men vs. 4 percent women
- Vice president: 4 percent men vs. 2 percent women
- Director: 12 percent men vs. 10 percent women
- Manager: 30 percent men vs. 27 percent women
The gender pay gap can be fixed with time
The gender pay gap can indeed be fixed, but it may take decades, if not centuries.
If we go by the (very, very) slow rate of closing the wage gap from 1959 to 2015, we may not see true equality across the U.S. until 2059, the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy says.
And that number is optimistic. For white women, the gap could maybe close in 2056. With black women, pay equality won’t come until the year 2124. Hispanic women won’t have equal pay until 2248.
At the very earliest, the wage gap will close in 21 years in the year 2038, and that’s only in Florida. But in four states, women won’t see the same pay as men until the 22nd century. Check out the Institute for Women’s Policy infographic below for state-by-state data.
When employees perceive a pay gap, regardless of whether their perceptions are correct, it has a direct, negative effect on employee retention.Advisory company Gartner
And the longer companies wait to correct the gender pay gap, the more it’ll cost them.
Gartner says that the average cost to correct pay gaps increases by $440,000 annually. In three years, a business will end up paying more than $1.3 million.
But fixing the problem isn’t only good for the pocketbook – it’s good for retention, too.
“When employees perceive a pay gap, regardless of whether their perceptions are correct, it has a direct, negative effect on employee retention in the form of a 16 percent decrease in intent to stay among both female and male employees,” Gartner says.
Financial equality helps everyone
According to Accenture’s survey, both sexes advance further in companies where equal pay and opportunities for women are priorities.
When women are 35 percent more likely to move on to management, men are 22 percent more likely to do the same thing, compared to companies without equal pay and opportunity priorities.
And almost all employees (95 percent) are happy with their career path at companies that advocate for women.
Companies with cultures that include the workplace factors that help women advance, men thrive too, and we all rise together. Julie Sweet, Accenture’s CEO of North America
“Companies with cultures that include the workplace factors that help women advance, men thrive too, and we all rise together,” Julie Sweet, Accenture’s CEO of North America, said. “Building a culture of equality is essential to achieving gender equality because people, not programs, are what make a company inclusive and diverse.”
And the idea of providing women with fair financial opportunities goes far beyond corporate careers. More than 1 billion women around the world are banned access to banking and financial products, the World Bank Global Findex found. 
The world is missing out on about $330 billion per year because of this exclusion, according to the United Nations Foundation. 
“Economically empowering women provides an undeniable return on investment: markets grow, women thrive, and families and communities are stronger,” says Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation. “If we want a better future, it starts with gender equality.”
Hope Dean contributed to this report.