A New Study Revealed Even “Small” Gender Pay Gaps Lead To Huge Inequalities Over Time

BDG Media, Inc.

The gender pay gap is definitely alive and well. Across virtually every industry, at any level, the chances are you will see women being paid significantly less than men. On average, white women earn 80 cents on the dollar when compared to white men, with black women earning only 63 cents and Hispanic women only earning around 54 cents on the dollar. The statistics are undoubtedly as shocking as they are infuriating, but new research shows that even companies with a much smaller pay gap can still lead to huge inequalities over time.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has made a laudable effort to tackle gender pay disparities, cutting the difference from 2.6 percent in 2005 to only 1.9 percent in 2016. While 1.9 percent may not seem like a lot compared to the national average, a new paper published in the JAMA Network Open looked at the effects that even a small disparity can have over time. The researchers looked at data for 1,481 faculty members (31 percent of whom were women) in 2005 and 1,885 faculty (39 percent of whom were women) in 2016 — and results are pretty mind-blowing. Despite implementing gender equality procedures like fairer pay, more sexual harassment education, interviews with women exiting employment, and more, the results were still stark.

The researchers took an approach beyond just analyzing income. By analyzing employment records, they looked at when employees could have been promoted and what their retirement investments could have been, taking into account real-world considerations like a three percent raise for cost of living, maximum employee retirement contributions of $18,000 per year, relevant taxes, and more. They then looked at three different scenarios to see how the pay disparity would affect real women.

They found a woman who was hired in 2005 would have accumulated $501,416 less than a male colleague if no initiatives had been introduced, while a woman who was hired in 2005 and progressed with the initiatives and decrease in pay gap still would have accumulated $210,829 less than a man in the same position. A woman who was hired in 2016, when the pay gap had dropped to 1.9 percent, was projected to earn and accumulated $66,104 less. So moving from a 2.6 percent disparity to a 1.9 percent disparity — a seemingly negligible difference — actually translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars of accumulated wealth over time. That's why it's so important to start taking any available stops as soon as possible — because even tiny changes can make a huge difference.

"What's important to take away from this is that the impact of even a small gap is still seen 30 years later, suggesting that interventions to address such inequities should not be delayed," Sara Alcorn, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences and a senior author of the paper explained in a press release.

Hopefully, this research will serve as a catalyst for change — and quickly. There are plenty of institutions that may know they need to tackle the gender pay gap, but aren't sure how. This research shows that every little change helps. "We hope that other institutions put similar mechanisms in place to review salary and make calls for equity," Avani Rao, M.D., a radiation oncology resident and co-first author of the paper said in the release.

We still have a huge way to go when it comes to the gender pay gap and pay disparity, but it's heartening seeing institutions like John Hopkins taking such a hands-on and dedicated approach to making change. Remember, it's not just about the salary — it's about opportunity and accumulation over time. Women are still so far behind.