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The Gender Wage Gap: Signs of a Shift

A wider earnings gap for women over 50 skews the overall results, masking some areas of improvement

When it comes to the topic of gender equality, there is usually one issue upheld as an indicator of progress, or lack thereof: the wage gap.

According to the latest Census Bureau statistics, in 2013 women earned about 78 cents for every dollar men earned, up a mere penny from 77 cents in 2012. That means the wage gap has barely budged since the mid-1990s — or is the situation rosier than we think?

According to one analysis of the Census data, the answer is, well, both.

While the wage gap overall remains stagnant, Claudia Goldin, a Harvard University economist, tells The New York Times that it is actually narrowing when you take a closer look by age group; within almost every age range, she says, the gap is shrinking more than the Census statistics would indicate.

So why does the gap still seem so wide? The Census data reflects the median earnings among all full-time workers ages 15 and older. But the biggest disparity in pay is actually among workers over 50, primarily because the wage gap widens for women as they get older. Because there are still a lot of boomers in the workforce, they end up skewing the overall results.

Other research seems to indicate that wages are moving toward parity. A Pew Research Center study found that in 2012, women’s hourly wages were about 84% of men’s — but when you zoom in to look at workers ages 25 to 34, women’s hourly wages were 93% of men’s.

On the one hand, it’s possible that the wage gap may continue to shrink with every new generation of women that enters the workforce. On the other, there are still many issues that can affect women’s earning power; for instance, taking time off or working part-time to accommodate having kids, which can have a negative impact on earning power.

All this data makes it clear that there’s still a lot of progress to be made on the pay front. If you think you might be making less than your colleagues, follow our tips to beating wage discrimination — and finally earning what you deserve.

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