Just How Bad Is the Gender Pay Gap? Brutal, When You Look at a Lifetime of Work

2 minute read

Every cause has its day, and Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, a reminder from the National Committee on Pay Equity that there is an ugly disparity between how much men and women earn in America, even when working identical jobs.

Just how large is the wage gender gap? There are a range of estimates from researchers, advocacy groups and a miscellany of government agencies who typically generate the raw data. Most say that women earn somewhere between about 79% and 85% compared to men, depending mostly on which types of income and industries one is considering. In the macrocosm of debates that hinge on data and statistics, this is not one where there’s a wide space for interpreting the facts.

One thing we do know is that, at least for the median worker, the disparity gets worse as one gets older and makes more money. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from the fourth quarter of 2018 found that, for full-time wage and salary workers between age 25 and 34, the pay gap in weekly earnings is 87%. Jump ahead 20 years, and women between 55 and 64 are making only 75% of what their male counterparts make in the same age bracket.

While the equal pay movement will presumably always rally around a single number, it is the accumulation of disparate pay that really drives home the reality of lost wages for women. According to TIME’s calculations, using the same BLS figures as above, a typical woman who works from age 16 to 70 will make $590,000 less than a man working an identical span.

While many people don’t begin full-time work until well after age 16, it’s much later in one’s career that the lifetime disparity balloons, as one can see from the rapidly diverging lines past age 40.

Should there be any substantial progress in achieving gender pay equality, this difference — which is already much higher for those in better-paying jobs — can be expected to contract. But until then, every day a woman works adds a few more dollars to her lifetime salary disparity.

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Write to Chris Wilson at chris.wilson@time.com