Monday, April 25, 2016

The Pay Gap in Relation to Race

In the last week, the US Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 bill. The introduction of a woman on United States currency, for the first time in more than a century (and first African-American ever), has brought the pay gap to the forefront of public discussion. While there was been an overall increase of women’s wages and decrease of the pay gap, there is still more work to be done and more discrepancies to account for.

Despite this notion of improvement, when race is brought into the discussion, it plays as large of a component in wage inequality as gender, leaving women of color in an even more disadvantaged place. (Note: In this post, when I talk about "race," I am talking about it in terms of US Census demographics, rather than as a social construction or ideology).  Even if women in general may have moved towards a smaller wage gap than before, women of color have even more room for improvement, that is not accounted for by looking at just women in general. 

Figure 1 (Washington Post) 

When looking into this topic, I was especially struck, not by the inequalities between men and women (which I have always known), but rather the inequalities between men and women of different races. In some cases, non-white men earned less than white women, exposing a different message than the idea that women in general are suffering alone (See Figure 1). Rather, there are many different degrees of wage inequality facing men and women of different racial demographics.  For example, Figure 1 features the median annual earnings of men and women of different races and explicitly displays the inequalities across both gender and race. Many statistics regarding the pay gap only use general or average percentages for a woman's wage versus a man’s (for example, $0.78 to $1), but this loses the intricacies that are clear when race is brought into the conversation.

Figure 2 (Washington Post)

Looking at women specifically, women of color generally earn even less than white women, yet this is not seen in a lot of wage gap statistics. This notion reminds me of the disparities of 2nd Wave feminism, where women of color and their unique issues were not as included in the movement. From a modern perspective, it was more involving only white feminism, rather than later movements which were more about intersectionality. Another issue that comes up is when one looks at the statistics from 2000 to 2010, in Figure 2, all of the wages plateau, indicating that the assumption of constant improvement is not a reality (See Figure 2). On a grander scale, there seems to be improvement for all of the groups, but the most recent decade shows that that improvement has slowed and stopped in some cases.  

Figure 3 (Think Progress)

In terms of percentages, the distinction between women of different races is very apparent (See Figure 3). A Latina or Hispanic woman earns $0.54 to a white man's $1, which is a much larger gap than the typical statement of $0.78.  In relation to men of their own race however, women are relatively close to achieving equal pay, but once their wages are compared to a white man’s, they are much further away (See Figure 4).  This was a surprising statistic to me, because it shows race and gender in conjunction as more of the root of the issue, rather than just gender alone.  For example, Black women are the closest to having equal earnings to their male counterparts, yet they are 15 percentage points lower than white women. Even though gender is an extremely important factor and cannot be ignored, the statistics show that race is just as much of a factor, maybe even more important.  

Figure 4 (AAUW)

While it is important to look at this issue in relation to only gender (seeing it as a problem across different races), the element of race is crucial and necessary to account for the vast disparities.  It is essential to look at the pay gap with race in mind to remember that even when equal pay is achieved for women in general, that may not mean that all women, particularly women of color, are receiving equal pay.  


Ashton, Deborah. "Does Race or Gender Matter More to Your Paycheck?" Harvard Business Review 20 June 2014: n. pag. 
Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

Chapin, Angelina. "A woman might be on the $20 bill, but women still earn fewer dollars than men." The Guardian 21 Apr. 2016: n. pag. The Guardian. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

Hill, Catherine. "The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2016)." American Association of University Women. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

Matthews, Dylan. "A closer look at the pay gap, in charts." Washington Post 30 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Washington Post. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

Petrohilos, Dylan, and Bryce Covert. "The Gender Wage Gap Is A Chasm For Women Of Color, In One Chart." Think Progress. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

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