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Several women's advocacy groups marked Equal Pay Day by delivering a petition to the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to demand the agency collect American employers' pay data to accurately monitor the nation's gender wage gap. (Photo: @AAUW/Twitter)

On Equal Pay Day, New Study Shows Wage Gap Actually Growing for Women Under 40

Advocates are demanding equitable policies such as paid parental leave and affordable childcare while also declaring "we must address harassment and discrimination!"

Jessica Corbett

A new report released on Equal Pay Day shows that the gender wage gap has actually worsened for women under 40 in recent years, despite increased media attention on the issue alongside mounting demands that businesses and politicians crack down on workplace sexual harassment, which researchers have tied to pay inequality.

Pay ratio

"Despite the great awareness of the gender equity issue, there is evidence that we have lost ground on this important measure of equality," said John Schwarz, chief executive of Visier, the workforce analytics firm that conducted the study. "These findings should be a wake-up call to business leaders."

Visier pointed out that the widening of the pay gap for women under 40 comes even as female workers are "significantly outperforming their male colleagues."

The report was published on Equal Pay Day, which was established in 1996 and marks the date to which females must work to reach pay parity with men's wages from the previous year. It aligns with findings from the Pew Research Center, which found that last year women earned 82 percent of what men were paid, and the U.S. Census Bureau, which found that in 2016, women earned only 80 percent of what men made.

While gender discrimination is still considered a notable driver of the gender wage gap, as Sarah Kliff outlined for Vox in February, there is "a growing body of research that suggests what we often think of as a gender pay gap is more accurately discussed as a childbearing pay gap or motherhood penalty."

Kliff's report focused on data from Denmark—which has a similar wage gap to the U.S., despite more generous social programs that aim to enable new mothers to remain engaged in the workforce—but it echoed findings from Harvard economist Claudia Goldin that the wage gap is largest for American women in their 30s—"in other words, their prime, childbearing years"—and a 2009 study by University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand that analyzed earnings of thousands of business school graduates.

"Women make up roughly half of the labor force, but we still face outdated workplace policies that perpetuate unequal pay, particularly for women of color and moms—and 81 percent of all women become moms," Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, said Tuesday. "These barriers aren't unbreakable, but we need progressive policies that prevent discrimination and promote equal pay for equal work." 

In addition to motherhood and sex-based discriminination, researchers and U.S. officials have tied the gender wage gap to workplace sexual midsconduct—which has increasingly garnered public attention since last fall, when several actresses publicly accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of harassment and assault, triggering renewed support for a national #MeToo movement that urges survivors across all industries to speak out about their experiences.

Despite this recent wave of support, "the taxing impacts of sexual harassment can have a negative impact on a survivor's career," TIME reported Tuesday, citing numerous studies and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). "The negative effect of sexual harassment can take multiple forms, from a woman leaving her job to escape harassment or getting stonewalled from promotions or raises after denying her boss's advances, among other situations."

Victoria Lipnic, the acting chair of the EEOC, told TIME that the decision to leave a workplace after experiencing sexual harassment, "particularly for women, is a setback in terms of overall compensation." In the 2017 fiscal year alone, Americans filed 12,428 sex-based workplace complaints with the EEOC, and about half of those involved sexual harassment. The agency is aware of at least 1,175 employees who left their jobs last year as a result of the reported incidents.

In response to the persistant gender wage gap, the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other advocates are calling on Congress to pass the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, and for policymakers at all levels of government to make efforts to address its underlying causes. Advocates are also demanding that the EEOC reinstate a nationwide requirement that certain large employers submit data on pay and hours worked, which the Trump administration halted last year.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) told The Huffington Post that President Donald Trump's administration "has probably some of the worst, misogynist, anti-women policies ever in recent history because he has doubled down on bad policies... And not just here at home, but around the world." Adding that Trump "is abusive with his tweets, with his livelihood, with his respect of people," Frankel called on men everywhere to serve as "role models" with how they treat women and take "affirmative, assertive action" to battle gender inequality at work.

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