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). <> (accessed July 26, 2017).

Intern Spotlight: Greg Nelson

Greg_Nelson 1.jpegName: Greg Nelson

Major/Year/School: Political Science, M.A. Candidate at Appalachian State University

Position: Research Intern

Past Internships: South Carolina Green Party

What drew you to an internship at IWPR?

Much of my tertiary education has centered around comparative politics and international relations. When I learned that IWPR was seeking to branch out from domestic politics and into the international arena, I saw an opportunity to use my experience to advance attainment of this goal while learning how to practically apply a feminist lens to public policy through the think tank medium.

What research areas do you focus on?

I focus on two areas. The first is in comparative transatlantic foreign policy of the United States and European Union member states. The second is the role of women in international relations. This research will be included in books that we hope to have published in 2018.

What has been the best part of interning at IWPR so far?

Amid millennia of oppression, women are increasingly entering leadership positions and proving themselves just as capable as men. IWPR serves as an example of this, with women rejecting the unequal societal status quo while actively working to promote positive change through scholarly collaboration. The best part about interning here is watching this process unfold and the spring of inspiration it provides.

Any advice for future IWPR interns?

Two things. Firstly, although you likely prefer one over the other, hone both your qualitative and quantitative research skills. It will prove useful academically, professionally, and in terms of personal development.

Secondly, maintain your idealism and engage in self-care. It is easy to get discouraged and frustrated in this field, but remember that exposing problems in society is the first step toward addressing them. Work hard, but know when to step away.

What are your future career interests?

After finishing my current degree program, I would like to work for a think tank or in human rights advocacy for a few years before pursuing a PhD.

Favorite lunch spot? D.C. is an incredibly diverse city with food seemingly from every region of the globe within walking distance of the institute. I’ve tried to mix it up: Afghan today, Cuban tomorrow.

Favorite D.C. museum? It’s a tie between the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum. I also recommend the African American History Museum. It is a profound experience that casts light on dark aspects of American history and emboldens one’s resolve in the struggle for equality.

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? I usually listen to Cam and Ray’s Cold War Podcast while browsing news and current affairs sources.

What else do you like to do in your spare time? I enjoy hiking, camping, discussing politics, and daydreaming about the ideal society.

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.

Intern Spotlight: Arwa Ali

IMG_6009.jpgName: Arwa Ali

Major/Year/School: B.A. in Economics, Class of ’18, Cornell University

Position: Research Intern

Organizations: Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (worship committee), Humanity First at Cornell (Fundraising Director), Ithaca Welcomes Refugees (Arabic interpreter trainee), Roosevelt Institute at Cornell (Policy Analyst)

What drew you to an internship at IWPR?

I have a variety of career interests, but they all revolve around social welfare and economic empowerment, which is how I landed on being an economics major. Though I applied to many internships, I felt that IWPR truly integrated all of my interests and would provide me with the most growth, particularly because women are so central to maintaining a positive community structure. Going onto the IWPR website always got me excited about all of the impactful research they put out, and I knew I wanted to contribute to that!

What does a typical day as a research intern at IWPR look like?

The one thing I can expect daily at IWPR is the 12:30pm group message on the “lunchtrain” chat.  Other than that, each day presents a new learning opportunity. I check in with my supervisor every couple of days to see if there are new projects I can take on, which is always exciting. As a research intern, you can expect to be asked to fact-check IWPR publications, which is ensures that a draft has accurate statistics and information.

The most enjoyable part for me has been doing research to collect information on a variety of topics, including sex trafficking in the United States and youth violence in Latin America and the Caribbean. These topics are hard to research, on an emotional level, but learning about the reality of these issues is necessary in order to combat them.

What’s the best part of interning at IWPR?

The best part for me has definitely been the people. Everyone I have encountered at IWPR is genuinely passionate about bettering the lives of others and ready to put in the necessary work to do so. The work environment is encouraging even though the state of our world isn’t so much at the moment. I got to attend the release of the Status of Black Women in the United States report (which I also got to help fact-check!) and hear Alicia Garza, of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Lives Matter, speak in person; the amount of valuable information in that one report is amazing! Seeing how research can be used to put out hard facts and figures to catch the attention of policymakers is truly inspiring.

What are your future career interests?

My interests revolve around social welfare, but I still haven’t settled on a single career path. I am currently looking to pursue grad school in either public health or public policy after completing my undergraduate degree.

Any advice for future IWPR interns?

There are so many amazing people that work here and come from a wide range of career backgrounds. Take the time to get to know them (not just your supervisor) and learn about their specific areas of research and how they got to where they are.

Favorite lunch spot? I have only eaten out once since I’ve been here (to be fair, I was fasting for Ramadan for a good chunk of my time here). I ate at CAVA, and it is SO good.

Favorite D.C. museum? I don’t know if it’s my favorite (haven’t gone yet), but the museum currently at the top of my list is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’ve tried to get weekend tickets twice so far and failed (ticket sales are same-day starting 6:30am).

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? I’ve recently started listening to a podcast called Strangers, and it’s really eye-opening to listen to the stories of others.

What else do you like to do in your spare time I like to spend most of my spare time hanging out with friends, but if I’m not doing that, you can catch me going on a YouTube video spree, drinking tea (fave!), or sleeping.

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.

IWPR Research News Roundup – July 2017


Women View Online Harassment Differently Than Men

By Samantha Leffler |  | 7.20.2017

The author of a new Pew Research Center study on online harassment, Maeve Duggan, said one difficulty she encountered was the subjective nature of online harassment, which people define and react to very differently. “When it comes to online harassment, there’s no one-size-fits-all option,” she explained. Not surprisingly, the nature of the harassment varied based on gender. Though men are somewhat more likely than women to be harassed online (44 percent vs. 37 percent) women — particularly younger women — are more frequently the targets of sexual harassment online.”

Citing: Online Harassment 2017, by Maeve Duggan, Pew Research Center, July 2017

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Women of Color Don’t Feel Safe in Science Jobs

By Meredith Clark | | 7.10.2017

According to a study published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, of the astronomers and planetary scientists surveyed, 40% of the women of color reported feeling unsafe in the workplace because of their gender or sex, and 28% reported it was due to their race. The study’s authors conducted an Internet survey of 474 women.

Citing: Double Jeopardy in Astronomy and Planetary Science: Women of Color Face Greater Risks of Gendered and Racial Harassment, by Kathryn Clancy, Katharine Lee, Erica Rodgers, and Christina Richey, Journal of Geophysical Research, July 2017

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How Party and Place Shape Americans’ Views on Discrimination

By Gene Demby | | 7.2.2017

Younger white people are much more likely than older white people to say that black people face a lot of discrimination. Most Republicans reject the idea that black people do. Black people are the racial group least likely to support same-sex marriage but the group most opposed to laws that would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ+ people. These are just some of the findings in a massive new study on American attitudes about how Americans perceive discrimination, from the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan group that studies attitudes about culture and public policy.

Citing: Who Sees Discrimination? Attitudes on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Race, and Immigration Status, by Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, and Robert P. Jones , Public Religion Research Institute, June 2017

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Paid Leave for Parents: What’s the right amount of time?

By Kelly Wallace | | 6.29.2017

After conducting a deep dive project, where Schulte and her New America colleagues reviewed numerous studies and talked to a range of experts, they have a recommendation for the optimal duration of paid leave according to available science: Based on infant health, maternal health, gender equality and female labor force participation, they recommend six months to a year of paid family leave.

Citing: Paid Family Leave: How Much Time Is Enough?, by Brigid SchulteAlieza DuranaBrian Stout, and Jonathan MoyerNew America Foundation, June 2017

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Black Girls Are Viewed as Less Innocent and More Adultlike Than White Girls: Study

By Monique Judge | 6.28.2017

The study found that survey participants believe that black girls need less nurturing, need less protection, need to be supported and comforted less, are more independent, know more about adult topics and know more about sex. These results have far-reaching implications and can be a contributing factor to the disproportionate rates of punitive treatment in the education and juvenile-justice systems for black girls.

Citing: Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, by Rebecca EpsteinJamilia JBlake, and Thalia GonzálezCenter on Poverty and Inequality, June 2017

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

By Ariane Hegewisch and Emma Williams-Baron | Saint Louis University Public Law Review | July 2017

Progress towards closing the gender wage gap has slowed markedly since the early 2000s, at approximately the same time that increases in the labor force participation of mothers also stalled. […] States with better work-family provisions, such as paid family leave and publicly provided prekindergarten classes, are likely to have a lower gender wage gap than states with few supports for working families. […] Rather than focusing on women’s choices as a causation of the gender wage gap, the issue of choice concerns public policies. Without a significantly expanded work-family infrastructure it is unlikely that the gender wage gap will close.

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A Paired-Testing Pilot Study of Housing Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples and Transgender Individuals

By Diane K. Levy, Douglas A. Wissoker, Claudia Aranda, Brent Howell, Rob Pitingolo, Sarale H. Sewell, and Robert Santos | Urban Institute | June 2017

Much of what we know about housing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community comes from surveys, but these personal experiences may only represent the most blatant forms of discrimination. To more accurately document discrimination against same-sex couples and transgender home seekers, the Urban Institute conducted studies in Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC metro areas using paired testing, a research tool that can capture discrimination in action. Their findings indicate that in the early stages of the rental search process, housing providers discriminate against gay men and transgender people on some treatment measures but treat lesbians and heterosexual women comparably.

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Meet the Out-of-Work

By Martha Ross and Natalie Holmes | The Brookings Institution | June 2017

Even in the midst of a prolonged economic expansion with a low national unemployment rate, not everyone who wants work can find it. Both job availability and demographics vary markedly around the country, yielding diverse local populations wanting and/or needing work. This analysis aims to deepen understanding of out-of-work Americans, and support local officials in their efforts to help these individuals find jobs. Brookings provides a unique perspective on adults ages 25-64 who are out of work across the United States, using cluster analysis to segment the out-of-work population into distinct groups based on factors such as educational attainment, age, work history, disability, English language proficiency, and family status. Detailed information on these groups is presented, accompanied by information on appropriate and effective programs in order to help local officials, funders, and other stakeholders develop, strengthen, or diversify strategies to connect their residents to employment.

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Access to Reproductive Health Care for U.S.-Based Refugees

By Jamila Taylor and Anusha Ravi | Center for American Progress | June 2017

At the intersection of reproductive health care access and refugee resettlement in the United States exists a community that is uniquely affected by both limitations. Upon entering the country, refugees can face barriers to accessing health care in general, including limited access to employer-sponsored health insurance coverage and limited resources or language capability to acquire quality health care services. Additional barriers to accessing reproductive health care in particular—social stigma, restrictive state and local legislation, as well as other hurdles—are compounded by refugees’ limited access to health care in general. While refugees often enter the United States as low-income, there has been significant research showing that refugees integrate well over time by entering the labor force, moving up the occupational ladder, and starting businesses after resettlement. Combined with the proven positive economic indicators for women and families that have increased access to reproductive health care, it is crucial that the refugee community have access to these comprehensive, high-quality services to economically thrive in America.

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Coupling Child Care with Pathways to Nontraditional, Higher Paying Work: Bridging Mississippi’s Skills and Wage Gap

By Matt Williams | Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative | June 2017

Mississippi has a “Middle Skills Gap,” or a labor force scenario in which available jobs that require some postsecondary education or technical training outnumber workers who are qualified to fill them. This particularly impacts single moms with dependent children under the age of 18, who tend to be stuck in low-wage jobs and don’t have the training or education to get into work that pays income above poverty level. This policy brief highlights the need to invest in pathways to higher paying work and presents a solution to Mississippi’s “Middle Skills Gap” that promises to place mothers with child care needs onto pathways toward higher-paying jobs by coupling nontraditional workforce training with critical supports.

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5 Stats to Know on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

5 Stats to Know on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

Monday, July 31, is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, marking how far into 2017 Black women must work to earn what White men earned in the previous year. A new report, The Status of Black Women in the United States, by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) in collaboration with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) takes a comprehensive look at Black women’s status across six topic areas related to their political, health, and economic well-being.

The average Black woman working full-time earns only 63 cents for every dollar earned by a White man. This gap is wider than for women overall, who earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. There isn’t one single reason for the gender wage gap: discrimination, the undervaluation of women’s work, occupational segregation, and the lack of work–family supports all contribute.

Here are 5 other stats to know on #BlackWomensEqualPay Day:

  1. At the current rate of progress, Black women will not see equal pay with White men until 2124.

If change continues at the same slow pace as it has for the past fifty years, it will take 42 years—or until 2059—for the median annual earnings of all women to finally reach pay parity with all men. Black women, however, would have to wait an extra 65 years on top of that, until 2124 to achieve equal pay with White men (Hispanic women will have to wait over two centuries, until 2248.)iwpr_bwepd (6)

  1. Black women have among the highest labor force participation rates for women.

Black women participate in the labor force at higher rates than White, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women, with 62.2 percent of Black women in the workforce,   Black women are the only group of women, among the large racial/ethnic groups included in the study, with a higher labor force participation rate than their male counterparts Almost four out of five (77.7 percent) Black mothers with young children participate in the workforce, higher than any other group of mothers.

  1. More than 8 in 10 Black mothers (80.6 percent) are breadwinners.

Black families depend on Black women’s earnings. Many Black women are raising families on their own, and more than half (50.6 percent) of Black mothers in married couples with young children are breadwinners—the largest share among women of any of the largest racial and ethnic groups.


  1. Between 2004 and 2014, Black women saw substantial declines in real wages, greater than for women from most other large racial/ethnic groups.

Black women’s real median annual earnings for full-time, year-round work declined by 5.0 percent between 2004 and 2014—more than three times as much as women’s earnings overall.


  1. Black women in unions earn 32 percent more than their nonunionized counterparts.

Black women workers working full time and represented by labor unions earn an average of $192.10, or 32.2 percent, more per week than Black women who are not in unions. Black women’s union wage advantage is greater than the union advantage among all women (31.3 percent). In the South, Black women in unions experience an even greater advantage than in the rest of the country, earning 34.5 percent more than their non-union counterparts.4

Policy Recommendations

A number of policy interventions can help address low and declining wages Black women. First, raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation will increase the earnings and economic security of Black women working in low wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage could improve the earnings of breadwinner mothers, reduce poverty, and reduce gender and racial earnings inequality.

Second, the U.S. government should fully enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination in hiring, pay, and promotions illegal, to improve Black women’s access to well-paid jobs.

Third, improving Black women’s access to good middle-skill occupations and providing equitable access to earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship opportunities will improve both Black women’s economic security and meet employers’ needs for a skilled workforce.

Stay Informed

Follow  the discussion on social media with #BlackWomensEqualPay or visit You can also follow IWPR on Instagram and Twitter  at @IWPResearch, or follow us on Facebook for regular updates on our research.  You can also sign up for our bi-weekly e-alerts to stay up to date on the latest releases.



Intern Spotlight: Alex Mull-Dreyer

alex_final_square.jpgName: Alex Mull-Dreyer

Major/Year/School: Davidson College ‘18, major in Political Science and Gender & Sexuality Studies, Hispanic Studies Minor

Position: Research Intern

Past Internships: Summer Admissions Ambassador at Davidson College

What drew you to an internship at IWPR?

As a participant in my college’s Davidson in Washington summer program, I was looking to work at a progressive organization focused on research-based policy work. In classes I have taken, I used IWPR’s Status of Women in the States project as one of my core sources for political participation and mobilization data. After learning more about other work IWPR does, I knew that I would love to work in an office where passion turns into production and publication.

What research areas do you focus on?

At IWPR, I focus on gathering data on electoral voting patterns broken down by demographics like marital status, age group, and educational achievement. Additionally, I have prepared background research on international child care and paid family leave policies for a piece published by a staff researcher.

What has been the best part of interning at IWPR so far?

The best part of interning at IWPR has been the opportunity to gain so much knowledge about how the work of a nonprofit think tank truly affects policy change, from local municipalities all the way to the federal government. IWPR’s work is cited in articles from The Atlantic, Blavity, Slate, and more. In June, IWPR hosted “From Persistence to Power: Facts, Truth, and Equity for Women,” a conference with Wellesley and Spelman Colleges. At the event, I was able to hear amazing speakers like Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and professional researchers and professors in the fields of gender studies, public policy, and economics. Through that day, I could see that what happens in the IWPR office on Connecticut Avenue affects people across the country.

Any advice for future IWPR interns?

Come in with a mindset that you may be asked to do things that you have a lot of background experience with as well as tasks where you have to learn the material and how to navigate the unfamiliar very quickly. At IWPR, it’s all hands on deck most of the time and staff are often eager for your help.

What are your future career interests?
I want to work on one of the 2018 midterm campaigns and eventually a campaign in 2020. I hope to be a community/political organizer, or a strategist of some sort. I am aiming for grad school or possibly law school.

Favorite lunch spot? I don’t want to sell my soul to corporations, but I love Cava and Chop’t so much. It’s so fast, easy, and absolutely delicious.

Favorite D.C. museum? The Newseum

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? Any of the Crooked Media podcasts (Pod Save the People, World, etc.)

What else do you like to do in your spare time?  I enjoy running on the Rock Creek trails or Mount Vernon along the Potomac. I can sit and talk politics pretty much all day and bring any conversation back to politics (for better or worse). Hanging out with any dog is always a plus.

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.

Intern Spotlight: Rebecca Huber

Rebecca Pic.jpgName: Rebecca Huber

Major/Year/School: Dual Master of Public Policy and MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies ’18, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University

Position: Research Intern

Past Jobs: Before graduate school, I worked in direct service non-profits for women’s health and re-entry support for formerly incarcerated women. Currently, I am also a Co-Founder and Policy Director of

What drew you to an internship at IWPR? I regularly rely on IWPR’s research when writing papers for coursework because of the intersectional lens and rigorous use of data. As a result, they were at the top of my list to fulfill my internship requirement for my grad program. Then, I visited IWPR earlier in the year for an informational interview. Meeting the staff and hearing about their mission firsthand cemented my love for the organization.

What research areas do you focus on? Most of my research surrounds women’s economic security, caretaking, and familial roles; at IWPR, this means I work on projects such as paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and the wage/wealth gap.

What has been the best part of interning at IWPR so far? It combines all of my favorite parts of grad school, except I only work on topics I am really passionate about. I love leaving work every day knowing that I contribute to a better world for women. I am also grateful to be treated as a member of the team – I feel comfortable speaking up and offering suggestions in meetings, which is no small feat for this INFJ.

Any advice for future IWPR interns? Taking my assignments in graduate school seriously has prepared me well for this position. Familiarity with things like Census data, statistics, economics, and fact checking has expedited many of my projects at IWPR. Also, having previous experience in an office setting has benefited me – I think showing that you are “hungry” to learn about the field is a good rule of thumb for any internship. I try to volunteer for and attend events as much as possible both in and out of IWPR, which is easy here, since we are surrounded by so many great nonprofits.

What are your future career interests? To be a Researcher at IWPR!

Favorite lunch spot? This is difficult – we are surrounded by awesome food! I have a fond spot for Sweetgreen and Little Sesame.

Favorite D.C. museum? I am relatively new to D.C., so I can’t make an informed choice here!

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? So many, and I can’t keep up with them. I like Why Oh Why, Dear Sugar, Strangers, Embedded, Only Human, Death, Sex, and Money, Criminal, How Did This Get Made… and many others. I wish I read more, but it’s hard, since I spend so much of my day reading and writing. I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which was great.

What else do you like to do in your spare time? I love the Bachelor franchise. Since I work on topics that can be sobering, it’s great to de-stress with ridiculous, mindless fun. #teampeter

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.