Despite having taken big strides in the workplace over the past few decades, women continue to earn less than men. And the gap only increases with age.
Women’s wages peak between ages 35 and 44, at a median of $781 a week, while men the same age made $964 a week, according to a recent report based on 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Women in older age groups earned $1 less — a median of $780 a week for both women age 45 to 54 and 55 to 64. Among men, on the other hand, 55- to 64-year-olds posted the highest median weekly earnings with $1,021.
In other words, the spread between men’s and women’s wages is widest for those further along in their career. In that oldest group of 55- to 64-year-olds, women earn 76 cents for every $1 earned by men.
Comparing these figures to numbers from 10 years ago, the gap between men and women has worsened. In 2004, women born between 1970 and 1979 earned a median of $561 a week compared with men of the same age who made a median $639 a week. Ten years later, those women’s wages rose by $220 a week. But over that decade, men’s median wages jumped by $325 a week.
While women of that demographic were earning about 88 cents for every dollar men of the same age made in 2004, those women were making just 81 cents for every dollar men earned in 2014.
“You would think as women get more experienced in the labor force, as they get more skilled, they’d have a similar increase to men, but they simply don’t,” said Elise Gould, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute.
Other recent research has similarly found that the gender gap is widening over the course of men’s and women’s careers. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that among recent college graduates, women earn about 97 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts. But by mid-career, male college graduates tend to earn 15 percent more than women.
The reasons for the disparity are numerous and hotly debated. Some experts blame discriminatory practices in the labor force and support legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the statute of limitations for filing equal-pay cases. Others point primarily to women’s own lifestyle choices, from college majors to raising babies, and say that when women put in the same number of hours doing the same jobs with the same skill as men, the compensation is already equal.
Gould acknowledges that women are more likely take time away from the workforce in order to raise children or care for aging parents. But, she added, “women don’t have real choices when they don’t have affordable options for child care and when they don’t have paid leave.”
Aside from calling on policy changes nationwide, what can women do to boost their earnings? Lauren Locker, a certified financial planner based in Little Falls, New Jersey, suggests simply asking for it. “We don’t give ourselves a lot of credit and I don’t know how to fix that other than telling young females, ‘You are smart and capable, so you have to ask for more,’ ” she said. “If we all ask for more, more will come.”
For women at or near retirement, Locker advises her clients to focus on putting their money to work wisely since there is typically less to work with.
A separate report on women and wealth commissioned by the Asset Funders Network found that women receive far less income in retirement than men do and are more likely to rely on Social Security for the majority of that income, though their benefits tend to be smaller because they’re likely to have earned lower wages during their careers than men and taken time out of the labor force at some point.
Locker said that the majority of her female clients tend to depend on their husbands to save for retirement and use their own wages to cover daily expenses. But you have to take responsibility for yourself, she said. “Every year, you as well as your spouse, should be putting away money for yourselves.”