For millennial women, what is a gender pay gap?

April 10, 2014 

In an ideal world, Tuesday’s Equal Pay Day — which symbolizes how long into the year women have to work to earn the same amount as men did the prior year — would be no days and every day at once.

For some of us, that may be close to a reality. It seems that a pay gap basically doesn’t exist for millennial women, of which I am one. Pew Research Center analysis of census data, published in December, “shows that today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men.”

The White House uses the disputed data point that, according to U.S. Census statistics, full-time working women earn on average only 77 cents to their male counterpart’s dollar. Pew’s analysis looks at median hourly earnings of full- and part-time workers (men tend to work more hours, and women are more likely to work part-time) to find that in 2012 women ages 16 and older made 84 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts. According to Pew, women’s median hourly earnings for those ages 25-34 — which, yes, doesn’t encompass all millennials and includes some Gen Xers (according to Pew’s definition of millennials being born after 1980) — were 93 percent of men’s in 2012.

Sadly for those of us who are millennial women, we’re not in the clear. For starters, 93 percent is not 100 percent. Moreover, the shrinking gap between earnings of young men and women was aided by the fact that the median hourly wage (in 2012 dollars) for young men decreased about 20 percent between 1980 and 2012.

So too, the pay gap will almost certainly grow as female millennials age — get married, have kids and dance recitals and unkempt houses. Looking at historical data, Pew notes that as women grow older, “They fail to keep pace with the overall narrowing of the earnings gap..”

The executive order and presidential memorandum that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday only apply to federal contractors. But the actions are crucial if only for the way that they underline a cultural issue with an executive pen. Because in 20 years, I hope be celebrating equal pay, and not just on Tuesdays in April.

Zara Kessler writes for Bloomberg news.

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