According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women will not achieve equal pay in the American industry until 2059. As it stands, women must work a full year plus three extra months to earn what men earn, on average, in just one year. However, the statistics are even more concerning when you examine the intersection of race and gender — in particular, Black and Latina’s women earn even less than white women.

Why does the gender pay gap exist despite legislation intended to make compensation fairer and more equitable across the workforce? Here are three reasons the gender pay gap endures today.


Reason #1: Occupational Segregation

Occupational segregation refers to the uneven distribution of demographic groups — in this case, women and men — throughout different professions and industries.

Research shows male-dominated occupations tend to pay more regardless of skill or education level. Roles predominantly comprised of women are undervalued. Case in point: Some of the lowest-earning positions are majority held by women, like childcare, hosts and personal care aides. Many of the highest-paying jobs, on the other hand, are held by men.

There are a few reasons this occupational segregation persists. To start, women responsible for juggling family responsibilities with their careers may find themselves logistically unable to work the long, inflexible hours necessary for many high-paying jobs. Another reason is many roles were designed with old-fashioned biases about the value of women’s work in mind — deeming caretaking and “helping” roles less important, therefore normalizing lower pay.


Many experts point out raising the minimum wage would help address the gender pay gap. More federal minimum-wage earners are women than men — and many are Black or Latina, too. This means raising wages in traditionally lower-paid sectors like food service, retail and nursing home care would help reduce the pay gap experienced by women, particularly women of color, due to occupational segregation.

Reason #2: Vertical Segregation

Vertical segregation within organizations refers to the “glass ceiling” that seems to make it more difficult for women to climb the corporate ladder. As CNBC cites, research has demonstrated there are significantly fewer women in senior level positions than men, and they make less money per hour than male counterparts if they are able to climb in rank.


The phenomenon of vertical segregation means, it’s tougheron average, for women to move up within organizations and they’re often paid less than male colleagues in similar roles. Moreover, lack of representation can also affect company culture as a whole. This tends to perpetuate the cycle in which it may be more difficult for women to get hired, receive mentorship and earn promotions. Pushing back against internal biases — conscious and unconscious — is an area in which training on pay equity can be helpful.

Reason #3: Motherhood Penalty

According to Pew Research, mothers usually take more time off than fathers after the birth or adoption of a child — 11 weeks compared to one week. However, women were nearly double as likely to report that taking time off for this reason negatively impacted their job or career, compared to men. This illustrates the motherhood penalty: where women are disproportionately responsible for family obligations and penalized for needing time and flexibility to accomplish those responsibilities — potentially setting them back in terms of employment, earnings, and career trajectory.

The gender pay gap, unfortunately, still exists for the reasons outlined above and many more. On a hopeful note, many organizations, legislators, and individuals are trying to close this gap and move our country closer to pay equity. Understanding its origins is a solid first step.