The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?

The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?

By Emma Williams-Baron and Ariane Hegewisch

Progress towards closing the wage gap has stalled over the past fifteen years. Despite women’s higher educational attainment, the earnings ratio between women and men who worked full-time, year-round was just 79.6% in 2015, only marginally higher than it was ten years earlier (77.0% in 2005). In discussions about the gender wage gap, the impact of women’s choices is often brought up. For example, some commentators say that earnings differences are due in part to women choosing lower-paying occupations, such as teachers, while men are choosing higher paid occupations, such as airline pilots, and/or that women are more likely to cut back paid work while caring for children, while men choose to work full-time. But such choices are not made in a vacuum. Options and choices are shaped by policy decisions—such as the public funding for preschool education or the availability of paid parental leave.

A recent article published in the Saint Louis University Public Law Review by IWPR researchers Ariane Hegewisch and Emma Williams-Baron uses state-by-state data on earnings, employment, and work-family supports from IWPR’s Status of Women in the States project to draw attention to the links between the work-family policy infrastructure and the gender wage gap. The article shows that:

  • The gender wage gap differs substantially between states. The ratio of women’s to men’s earnings is highest in New York, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, at 87.6, 87.4, and 87.0 percent, respectively, and is the lowest in Wyoming, Utah, and Nebraska, at 67.9, 70.0, and 73.1 percent.
  • States vary significantly by availability of work-life balance policies offered; only 16 states have at least one type of paid leave legislation, including paid sick leave, paid family leave, and temporary disability insurance at the state or local level. In 10 states more than 60 percent of children are enrolled in public pre-schools, and in 12 states, fewer than 20 percent.
  • The five states that score highest on work-family supports (according to IWPR’s Work-Family Index)—New York, California, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and Rhode Island—are among the states with the lowest gender wage gap. The five states with the worst scores on the Work-Family Index—Indiana, Utah, Montana, Mississippi, and Wyoming—are all in the bottom ten states when it comes to the gender wage gap.

For more data and analysis, see the full article:

Hegewisch, Ariane and Emma Williams-Baron. 2017. “The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?” Saint Louis University Public Law Review 36 (July). <http://law.slu.edu/sites/default/files/Journals/ariane_hegewisch-and-emma_williams-baron-article.pdf> (accessed July 26, 2017).