The Gender Wage Gap Widens As Women Get Older, A Study Suggests

by Priscilla Totiyapungprasert
Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

A new study has found that seniority in women's careers not only won't close the wage gap, getting older might widen it. Researchers found that college-educated women start off by earning 89 percent of what college-educated men earn, but by age 45, their earnings drop to 57 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Using databases from the U.S. Census Bureau to analyze individual firms and their workers, the research team tracked how women's and men's earnings evolve during the first 20 years of their careers. They found that most earning divergence occurred within firms: When men and women stay at the same company, men's earnings grow at a faster rate.

They researchers acknowledged that the reasons driving the gender pay gap are varied and hard to measure, and that their study reveals the how rather than the why. Do men have more valuable labor market skills, or do employers value skills differently if they're performed by men?

The team also found that the gap widened (albeit less so), when people changed jobs: More men move up to higher paying companies than women do. This change was most noticeable with married women and the authors suggested that it could be because in couples, men are still seen as having the "primary career." When married couples relocate, they might have made that decision to benefit the primary career despite doing little or even hurting the secondary one.

These studies reflect the persistence of salary disparity, a topic that grabs the spotlight every now and then through high-profile cases (such as when actress Jennifer Lawrence called out on it) or rousing op-eds (like the ones by conservative commentator Cristina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys).

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Jill Ellis, coach of the World Cup-winning U.S. women's national soccer team, collected $90,000 in bonuses — less than a fifth of what men's coach Jurgen Klinsmann received after guiding his team to the tournament's second round. This information comes more than a year after five players from the women's team filed a wage discrimination lawsuit.

The Independent Association of Publishers' Employees recently released an analysis of the wage disparity between women and men employed by Dow Jones & Company, the publishing firm that produces The Wall Street Journal. Even when accounting for location and age, on average, women made less money than their male counterparts at every age except 66 years old.

Although the study using the Census Bureau data doesn't definitively pinpoint the culprits for wage gap, economist Claudia Goldin has a hunch. Goldin, a Harvard professor, co-authored the study as well as other papers on the female labor force.

“Women are disproportionately losing out during these periods of time when families are being formed,” she told NBC News. “If there are jobs, let’s say in finance, where employers put tremendous demands on their workers, and only the guys are the ones who go into those jobs and women go into other sectors or small firms that have more temporal flexibility with lower salaries, it really takes two sides here to make that market. So if all the guys said ‘We also want to see our kids, we also want temporal flexibility,’ then this difference wouldn’t exist."