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The Gender Pay Gap Is Worse for Women of Color

Topics: Current Events

When we talk about pay inequity, especially on Equal Pay Day, we generally talk about the differences between men’s earnings and women’s earnings – meaning all men and all women, without regard to race. To really unpack the problem, however, we need to dig further into the data and look at how race and ethnicity impacts earnings. Bottom line: the gender pay gap is particularly bad for women of color.

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(Photo Credit: Photo by Alfred T. Palmer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Via iluvcocacola/Flickr)

Although smaller gaps persist within racial and ethnic groups, due to lower pay for both men and women in these groups, the full scope of the problem emerges when we compare the earnings of women of color to the earnings of non-Hispanic white men.

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In their recent report, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap, the American Association of University Women compares women’s earnings in 2014 against that of white male workers, and finds the following earnings ratios:

Hispanic or Latina: 54 percent

American Indian and Alaska Native: 59 percent

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 62 percent

African-American: 63 percent

White (non-Hispanic): 78 percent

Asian-American: 90 percent

Why do women of color earn less than white men? Several reasons. Among them:

1. Job “Choice”

“Across the board, women of color are more likely than white women to be shunted into the lowest-earning occupations in the service sector and in sales and office jobs,” writes Milia Fisher at the Center for American Progress. “This trend is particularly pronounced for Hispanic women. Among working women in 2014, 62 percent of Hispanics were clustered into just two job groups—service occupations and sales and office occupations. This is compared with 57 percent of blacks, 51 percent of whites, and 44 percent of Asians in the same job categories.”

Further, only 35 percent of African-American women and 26 percent of Hispanic women occupy management and professional jobs – i.e., higher-paying jobs. Women in general are more likely to have low-paying administrative and support jobs and less likely to have high-paying professional and executive roles; women of color are even less likely to occupy high-paying positions.

2. Differences in Work Hours

Job type affects pay in more than one way. For example, retail and service jobs often provide only part-time work, regardless of the preference of the worker.

“Women of color are more likely to hold hourly wage jobs and to work in lower-paid fields. They also tend to work fewer hours,” writes Rebecca Leber at New Republic. “Not because they choose it, per se, but because of the nature of the work. Black and Hispanic women are concentrated in service industries, where part-time shift work is often the only option. In 2014, 29 percent of African-American women and 28 percent of Hispanic women had no choice but to work part-time, because they were unable to find full-time work, compared to 16 percent of white women.”

In addition, women of color are more likely to balance caring for a family with being a primary wage earner, contributing a larger portion of the family income. The Center for American Progress also reports that African-American and Latina women are more likely to be single mothers than white women, putting more importance on their earnings while also potentially restricting their working hours.

3. Racial Prejudice and Unconscious Bias

A field experiment by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with “white-sounding” names like Emily Walsh or Greg Baker had significantly higher callback rates than those with “African-American-sounding” names like Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones.

Job applicants with white names received one callback for every 10 resumes sent; those with African-American names had to send 15. Higher quality resumes impacted callback rates for whites by 30 percent, but provided a much smaller boost for African-American applicants. The researchers concluded that having a white name was equivalent to eight additional years of experience, in terms of callback rates.

“While one may have expected that improved credentials may alleviate employers’ fear that African-American applicants are deficient in some unobservable skills, this is not the case in our data,” the authors write. “Discrimination therefore appears to bite twice, making it harder not only for African-Americans to find a job but also to improve their employability.”

A similar effect has been found in experiments targeting gender bias in certain industries. For example, one experiment showed that scientists reviewing resumes for a lab manager position were less likely to hire a candidate named “Jennifer” than one named “John,” and more likely to suggest paying her a lower salary.

Women of color get hit with bias twice: once based on gender, and once based on race or ethnicity. These experiments also provide an explanation for why education doesn’t necessarily level the playing field for women of color. In short, even when African-American and Hispanic women have the same credentials as white candidates, both overt prejudice and unconscious bias stand between them and equal opportunity and pay.

Tell Us What You Think

Tell us about your experiences with the gender pay gap. We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #equalpayday.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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To make it worst, you did not compare black women to black men, you compared them to white men. In that case you have some findings but you should have cited that black men are at the bottom of pay compared to all other races and they make less than white women and asians.


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This is a horrible article. You have to compare apples to apples. Why would you give us a graph with different jobs on either side. Of course they have different pay. why didn’t you compare jobs to jobs. The bureau of labor and statistics say that the gap for black women and men is smaller than any other race. less than 4%. Your facts are not facts at all.


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