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The Gender Pay Gap in the United States: A Literature Review

Sandra Contreras
University of Texas at El Paso

When a male employee earns more than his female counterpart taking into account that
both are equally qualified in every way and doing the same type of work, this wage difference is
known as the gender pay gap. A pay gap exists between two employees of different genders who
are equally qualified and capable of doing the same work with one of them earning considerably
more than the other, this is a form of discrimination towards women in the workforce. By
utilizing a variety of scholarly articles as well as personal communication and examining
different scenarios concentrated specifically in the United States, the issue that is defined as the
gender pay gap is better understood as many of its contributing factors are brought into the light
and analyzed. The findings revealed that there are two main contributing factors attributed to the
gender pay gap: the explained and the unexplained. The first of the two is attributed to factors
such as education, qualification and experience. Leaving the unexplained factors to be seen as
plain discrimination, as all other things taken into consideration they are not able to successfully
summarize and provide an accurate explanation of the wage difference between genders.

The Gender Pay Gap in the United States: A Literature Review
Discrimination is defined as the unequal and unfair treatment received by an individual
who shares qualities to another base on either gender, race etc. The gender pay gap is an
extremely important issue that does not receive the attention that it is due. By not truly
acknowledging the real issue, discrimination against women in the workplace continues.
Throughout the years many have tried to excuse and justify the problem by claiming that factors
such as education and work experience explain the pay difference between genders. The closing
of the pay gap has been a lengthy and slow process; efforts have been made, such as the Equal
Pay Act of 1963 and the Paycheck Fairness Act. These acts have proven unsuccessful as women
presently only earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man. There is an abundance of
controversy surrounding this topic, it is talked about but there seems to be no real progress
towards the settlement and conclusion of this issue. The government must take initiative, as the
civilian population cannot deal with this enormous problem on its own.
The four following questions will endeavor to clarify what seems to be the root problem
and what is or who are to be party responsible for its continuous grip in society.

What is the gender pay gap?

Where does the United States stand concerning the gender pay gap?
What impedes equal pay between genders?
Should the government do more to end the gender pay gap once and for all?

These four questions will help narrow the vast subject that is the pay gap by specifically focusing
in the United Sates and how the women of this country are affected by it.

What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap is defined as the difference in earning of men and women. This is a
form of discrimination which takes place in the work environment as employers deliberately pay
an employee less than a fellow co-worker with the same qualifications, in the same line of work.
Consequently, this can influence the discriminated employees possibility towards earning raises
and promotions. Gender gaps in salary have existed throughout history in all occupations,
including social work and related human services professions. Despite the salience of salaries to
the professional workforce, wages have remained stagnant (Gibelman, 2003). As can be seen in
Figure 1, there has been little increase to no increase over the course of the years; presently
women earn 79 cents on the dollar. The unexplained differences in pay between genders is a
violation of human rights, considering that men and women are equal before the law. Women
cannot be classified as second class citizens, we as women are being deprived of our inalienable
rights; everyone is created equal (Sandra Cohen, personal communication, July 5, 2016).
Figure 1: Graph showing the slow diminishment of the pay gap over the course of 56 years.

Gender Pay Gap in the US









Source: Molla, R. (2014, September 23). Womens Pay Compared to Mens From 1960 to 2013. Retrieved

As mentioned in the article Statistical Analysis for Determining Pay Discrimination by

Leutwiler, the gender pay gap is due to the domestic responsibilities that are perceived by society
as being exclusively done by women and sex-typing, which is men going into male- oriented
jobs while women should go into female-oriented jobs. Stereotypes, particularly negative ones
and discrimination are clear indicators that the gender pay gap is indeed a real issue, this can be
further confirmed by the countless lawsuits that are filed on a daily basis due to discrimination in
the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) investigates and will
take action accordingly. To prove discriminatory practices, a pay gap must exist between two
individuals with identical qualifications (Leutwiler, 2013). There are two portions that comprise
the pay gap: the explained and the unexplained. The explained portion will include factors such
as education and job qualifications, while the unexplained is (for the most part) some form of
A recent study by the American Bar Association revealed that, despite surging numbers
of female lawyers, bias against women remains entrenched in the legal profession and results in
steep inequities of pay, promotion, and opportunity (Gibelman, 2003). In comparison to other
countries such as Australia, the United States falls short, the progressive thinking of this nation
has allowed it to significantly lessen it but to not completely close the pay gap; whereas the
United States cannot seem to do so. As seen in Figure 1 the diminishment of the pay gap over the
course of 56 years has been a slow process, as the gap has only closed .19 since the 1960s, this
shows that there is an obvious problem that should be dealt with immediately, as this is an
indicator that the undetermined factors come into play when determining the wage between
genders in this country.

Where does the United Stated stand concerning the gender pay gap?
As a modernized country with high standards of living, political and economical stability,
the United States is classified as a first world country. Salary holds significant meaning in this
society in terms of the value and worth assigned to professionals and to the holders of
professional positions (Gibelman, 2003). But even the most advance countries have issues that
they cannot seem have to control over, this being the pay gap. In the article entitled
Acknowledging Discrimination as a Key to the Gender Pay Gap by Hilary M. Lips, there is a
lack of awareness of the gap. This is due in part to what Lips refers to as system-justification
beliefs; attempts towards the validation of the gender pay gap by attributing it mainly to the
choices individuals make, while down-playing the role of discrimination. Currently there is no
country in the world listed by the World Economic Forum where females earn more than 82
cents earned by males for similar work.
There is an apparent dilemma but, to address the problem, there first has to be an
acceptance that the problem itself exists. There is an issue with the previous statement, that being
that nothing can be done to remedy the problem is those who are being affected or bare witness
to it, shield themselves from the wrongdoings by attempting to find vindications because they do
not want to stand out from those around this as this could affect the image perceived of them by
their peers; they want to stay with the status quo. A large body of evidence suggest that people
do not like to acknowledge that they are the either the perpetrators or victims of injustice, and
that they create justifications to explain disparate outcomes (Lips 2013). Further unfairness is
face by women as a study of gender inequality conducted on Wall Street showed that women are
viewed as future mothers, this plus the rigorous hours worked per week have proven
incompatible with family life, thus women are often depicted as not being dedicated to their

careers. Consequently, they are often unnoticed and are given fewer promotions if they do have
children as their attention is not solely focused in their work but divided with family
responsibilities. This shows that society punishes women for starting families as they do not meet
societies expectations and do not conform to the set stereotypes and thus they earn less money
and are given fewer opportunities. (Lips 2013) This gender pay gap is wide-ranging, from top
female CEOs earning less than their male counterparts to single mothers being much more likely
to live in poverty than single fathers. Additionally, many fields also are still segregated by sex,
with the few fields where women dominate tending to offer lower pay (Molla, 2014). The
rationalization by many for this is situated with the career and job choices made by women;
typically, women will go for the jobs that are often associated as being exclusively for women,
which usually offer less pay and thus are not sough out out by men. Even in the case a man does
take one of said jobs, such as a social worker, he will still earn considerably more than his female
co-workers. (Gibelman, 2003)
The pay gap has indeed become smaller throughout the years and discrimination along
with it, but there are still many impediments that must be conquered and demolished in order for
women to receive equal treatment and pay in the workplace. Stereotyping and socially assigned
roles contribute to the problem as men often hold jobs such as lawyers, doctors and engineers,
these are seen as male dominated fields where as women are expected to go into more feminine
fields such as becoming teachers, secretaries or stay at home mothers. Outside the United States
in countries such as Japan, well defined gender roles generate an extreme example of
occupational sex-typing, resulting in a consistently underpaid female population (Leutwiler,
2013). The United States must learn from countries such as Australia, where there has been a

significant decrease in the pay gap as it is the countrys forward-looking perspective that has
made this possible.
What impedes equal pay between genders?
The United States is the leader in many sectors and industries worldwide. Being home to
some of the top global brands such as Apple, Google and Microsoft and as can be seen in Figure
2, the United States has one of the worlds most sizable and profitable economies, holding 1/5
of the global GDP with only 4.5% of the worlds population (Perlberg, 2013). These amongst
other factors rank the United States as a world power. The country prides itself with its many
accomplishments, but despite the nations numerous achievements, there is something that this
world leader and power cannot seem to attain: closing the gender pay gap and ensuring equal pay
between genders.
Figure 2: US economy in comparison to other world leaders.

Source: Perlberg, S. (2013, June 22). 10 Reasons Why America Will Continue To Dominate The Global Economy
For Years. Retrieved from

Stereotypes play an enormous role in this, as particular jobs are viewed to be only for
women as they are having fewer earnings and are traditionally performed by women, men refuse

to perform these jobs even if they are similar to those more traditionally masculine ones. Social
psychology has long produced theory and research that point to a human tendency to resist
uncomfortable information and justify the status quo. (Lips 2013) Stephanie Cholensky states in
her article The Gender Pay Gap: NO MORE EXUCES! that part of the problem as viewed by
social feminists is the patriarchal conditions of society. Countries with greater gender equality
tend to have smaller pay gap as well as less wealth inequality overall. The gender pay gap
indicated that we are far from an egalitarian society and that there is a lot of work to be done
(Cholensky 2015).
Two factors try to explain the gender pay gap: human capital and structural factors.
Human capital refers to factors such as capability, education, and experience; these are
concerning what a person can contribute to the workplace, known as supply-side variables.
Structural factors refer to things such as work-related responsibilities, field and sector in which
the person works, also known as demand-side factors. When all of this factors are taken into
account, they do amount to a certain percent of wage discrepancies but there is still no clear
explanation for the pay gap. Part of the gender pay gap appears liked to differential employment
of women within job sectors, sometimes referred to as job segregation (Travis, 2009). There is
an acknowledgment of this issue and thus there is an effort by the companies within the high
paying sector such as science, that try to bring talented women into these types of fields. During
the last decades, women have surpassed men in overall rates of college graduation and have
almost reached parity with men in rates of earning doctoral and professional degrees. In addition,
levels of sex segregation have declined, and women have increased their representation in maledominated occupations, particularly in managerial and high-status professional occupations
(Mandel, 2014). Cultural and social barriers impede progress but ultimately who decides if this

will stay the same or move forwards towards a better outlook, is the government, for they hold
the power to change things within society as to remedy the mistakes made by countless
generations before.
Should the government do more to end the gender pay gap once and for all?
The civilian population alone cannot end the gender pay gap, the government must aid its
citizens. Although it has tried on countless occasions to establish a state of equality, all three
branches of government have failed to bring about the change desired by many. The pay gap is a
tremendous intransigent social problem that has proven difficult, if not impossible to surmount.
Presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson have issued executive orders attempting to stop
discrimination not only concerning gender but race and color as well. Equal pay legislation was
first introduced through the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards
Act. This law requires equal pay for work involving equal skill, effort, responsibility, and
working conditions (Gibelman, 2003) When this act was signed by Kennedy women earned
$0.59 for every dollar earned by men. (Travis, 2009) This was a worthy effort for its time, but
every law has its loopholes and escape clauses; take for instance the Equal Pay Act of 1963,
although it states that equal pay must be received for equal work, an employer can pay a male
employee more for any other reason except that being on the gender of the employee. This can
be given many interpretations, one of such reasons for unequal pay could be the female
employee has a family and thus she is perceived by as less serious by her employer who is less
dedicated to her work and career as she must divide her attention between her workplace
responsibilities and family related responsibilities. (Lips, 2013) The Paycheck Fairness Act of
2013 if it had gained Senate approval would have required employers to present sensible reasons
other than, men will not accept the job due to the low salary thus women are given the job.

Wage discrimination laws have not been firmly enforced and thus have proven
unsuccessful. The judicial branch has contributed its fair share towards the diminishment of
discrimination; in the Supreme Court case of Reed v. Reed, the court nullified a law in the state
of Idaho that gave favorable treatment and first choice to men when it came between genders and
the qualifications towards the management of estates, the ruling prohibited discrimination based
on sex as it is arbitrary and unconstitutional.
Discrimination comes in many forms, one of those being unequal pay between competent
individuals. The gender pay gap is a social problem that must be addressed accordingly, as this is
affecting women women all over the United States and around the world. Currently, there is no
country in the world that does not base employee wages on gender. There are those that justify
this problem by bringing in factors such as education and job experience that should explain the
difference received by genders in their pay, but these do not provide the necessary proof. Even
through the passing of different laws, the government has failed to close the gap; these laws have
not been implemented properly and thus the problem continues. This problem must be solved, if
not today, then sometime in the near future as it is a discriminatory practice towards women

Cholensky, S. (2015). The Gender Pay Gap: NO MORE EXCUSES!. Judgment & Decision
Making, 10(2), 15-16.
Gibelman, M. (2003). So How Far Have We Come? Pestilent and Persistent Gender Gap in Pay.
Social Work, 48(1), 22-32.
Leutwiler, J., & Kleiner, B. H. (2013). Statistical Analysis For Determining Pay Discrimination.
Insights To A Changing World Journal, 2013(4), 100-114.
Lips, H. (2013). Acknowledging Discrimination as a Key to the Gender Pay Gap. Sex Roles,
68(3/4), 223-230. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0245-0
Mandel, H., & Semyonov, M. (2014). Gender Pay Gap and Employment Sector: Sources of
Earnings Disparities in the United States, 1970-2010. Demography, 51(5), 1597-1618.
Molla, R. (2014, September 23). Womens Pay Compared to Mens From 1960 to 2013.
Retrieved from
Perlberg, S. (2013, June 22). 10 Reasons Why America Will Continue To Dominate The Global
Economy For Years. Retrieved from
Travis, C. B., Gross, L. J., & Johnson, B. A. (2009). TRACKING THE GENDER PAY GAP: A
CASE STUDY. Psychology Of Women Quarterly, 33(4), 410-418. doi:10.1111/j.14716402.2009.01518.x