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Closing the Gap: An Examination of Gender Income Disparities in America


Beginning in 2017, employers with 100 or more employees will not only have to report number of employees by, sex, and race ethnicity by EEO-1 job category, but they also need to report summary pay data and aggregate hours as well. Looking into discrepancies on an industry-by-industry level can help shine a light on the gender pay gaps. Here, we’ll examine U.S. Census data to show which sectors of businesses are doing the best in closing the gap, and which industries are most riddled with inequality. We’ll see how this looks at a localized, state, and regional level, review what the new rules mean for businesses, and provide insight into meeting the 2017 guidelines, assuming they remain in place.

Popular Jobs and What They Pay

A bar chart displaying the most popular jobs in the U.S. and what they pay. Information sourced from

An examination of the most popular jobs in the U.S. immediately reveals salary disparities between men and women. Male registered nurses, on average, earn over $9,000 more annually than their female counterparts. Men in retail sales see a $16,000 annual difference. Male secretaries and administrative assistants? They earn nearly $9,500 more annually than their female co-workers. Wages for customer service representatives also show a pretty big gap between men and women – over $9,000 annually. Janitors and building cleaners have roughly an $8,500 annual pay gap between men and women, and cashiers around $7,500 annually. While differences in other jobs don’t appear to be  quite as steep, they're all still noticeable, even for jobs where the gap is the smallest.

While men may not traditionally be secretaries, that doesn't mean they don't exist (see the new “Ghostbusters” film for an example in popular media). Why, then, do women make less than men in these roles when they have the same job duties?

Percentages Tell More of the Story

A bar chart displaying the percentage difference in pay in popular industries. Information sourced from

Disparities in pay are even more glaring when we look at percent differences for the most popular jobs in the U.S. The average percent difference between men and women who work as a retail salesperson is over 43 percent. This is followed by janitors and building cleaners, where the percentage difference is a hair under 30 percent. Further, male cashiers earn around 28 percent more than their female co-workers. Office clerks, secretaries, and customer service representatives all hover around 23 percent, while waiters and waitresses, laborers, nurses, and food prep workers have percentage differences between 6.5 and 18.5 percent.

There are several theories as to why women in the workforce encounter hurdles that their male co-workers do not face. One possibility is that women often are (or become) parents, which has a direct effect on the amount of money they make. Studies, which refer to the “motherhood penalty,” have shown that women are often “penalized” for their parenthood status. This gap often translates to perceived competence level and starting salary offers. Men, on the other hand, are usually not “penalized” for becoming a parent; in some cases, employers may inadvertently reward them for being a parent at least in terms of wages.

High-End Careers Aren't Immune

A bar chart displaying the best paying jobs in the U.S. based on annual salary. Information sourced from

The best paying jobs in the U.S. also show a gap in pay between men and women, confirming even the highest-paying gigs are still prone to the same issues that plague lower-paying jobs. Medical careers stand out right away. Male physicians and surgeons, for example, earn an annual salary of $73,000 more than their female counterparts. A somewhat similar gap exists for podiatrists – around $60,000. Additionally, among dentists, there is a $56,000 annual wage gap. Male nurse anesthetists on average make nearly $36,000 more than their female co-workers in a year, and the story is similar for economists. Architectural and engineering managers had less of a wage gap than the other positions; however, the research shows that men make $13,000 more annually in these jobs than women.

“Why don't women simply request more pay raises?" you may ask. The startling fact is that women do request pay raises as often as men, but they are less likely to receive them. Negotiating a salary can be a negative factor as well. Women who push back on money issues are less likely to be hired in the first place, as they can be seen as too demanding (while negotiation is often expected from men, according to Joan C. Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law).  

Government Jobs are also Prone to Pay Gaps

A bar chart displaying the income inequality based on gender in Federal government job roles. Information sourced from

Do people employed by the government enjoy greater equal pay than professionals in the private sector? Not really. While the wage gap in federal jobs between men and women is not quite as large across the board, it still exists – and in a few cases, is decently sized. Judicial law clerks, for example, are paid over $25,000 more annually if they happen to be male. Firefighters? Men earn $7,500 more than their female counterparts each year. Elementary and middle school teachers? That's about a $5,800 annual pay gap. Female secondary school teachers make an average of $4,800 less annually than their male co-workers, while female police officers pull in an average of $7,100 less than male officers each year. It should also be noted that as more women enter fields that are traditionally dominated by men, median salaries across the board tend to fall.

There is even a gap in military pay an annual $6,000 pay gap between men and women who work as Military Enlisted Tactical Operations personnel, around $2,700 for Military Officers and Tactical Operations Leaders, and around $6,000 for those whose military ranks were not specified.

While there are many positions that pay women less than their male counterparts, there are some careers where women are paid  more than their male peers.

Jobs Where Women Make More

A graphical display showing careers that pay women more based on annual difference in pay. Information sourced from

There are jobs where women do have a higher average salary than men. Note, however, that most are hands-on nontraditional jobs that women don't always have an easy time breaking into. Female earth drillers (except for oil and gas drillers) earn over $6,600 more annually than men doing the same job. Forging machine setter data shows a $5,500 annual disparity. The greatest wage gap, though, is found among boilermakers ($15,110).

Pay Gaps Vary by Region

A graphical display of the gender-based wage gap by annual salaries in various states in the U.S. Information sourced from

Connecticut offers the highest average salary for men ($72,148) and women ($56,969). On the other end of the spectrum, South Dakota has the lowest average salary for both men ($47,945) and women ($37,736).

Wages tend to be lower in the South than they are in the Northeast. However, the lowest average salary for men is only $9,024 less than the highest average salary for women. Overall, in the U.S., women are paid an average of $12,694 less than men each year.

In August 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a law that prevents employers from requesting a prospective employee’s salary history until after they’ve made an offer. A laws like this can help women exceed low pay grades associated with similar, previous job roles; it forces the company to decide an employee’s wages based on criteria other than past salary.

Whatever the outcome with wage equality in Massachusetts, it’s clear that the wage gap is a difficult subject to address and requires more than legislative forces to fix it.

Part of the solution involves an employer’s awareness of the pay disparity and willingness to proactively solve the problem. Here are some steps your company can take toward fair wages:

  1. Remove bias in the selection process. When looking for new candidates to hire, try to hide or ignore their identifying factors related to gender, such as pictures or names.
  2. Don’t ask for pay history. Removing this factor ensures a candidate’s qualifications are at the forefront of the compensation process.
  3. Create set salaries. Establish a pay scale that applies standardized salaries based upon position, hierarchy, experience, or education. This can help to establish equal pay across the board; it can also help  make the pay-raise process more transparent as well.  
  4. Be mindful during reviews. Men and women can have varying personalities and work styles. When reviewing employee performance, be sure to be objective What sort of issues or obstacles must the employee deal with that you, yourself, may not encounter?

Strategies to Erase the Gender Wage Gap

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You may be asking yourself what you can do to help make sure all employees are treated equally. It starts with simply following the new guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Review the flipbook above for a summary of employer responsibilities.


The gender pay gap didn't just appear overnight. While it will likely take time to overcome it completely, these new guidelines will help keep it from growing. It is important that employers always ensure compliance with federal mandates when it comes to their business and employees.

This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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