The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2021

Between January 2019 and January 2021, nearly 1.3 million people took PayScale’s online salary survey, providing information about their industry, occupation, location and other compensable factors. They also reported demographic information, including age, gender, and race. We leveraged this sample to provide insights into the controlled and uncontrolled gender pay gap.

For analysis by race, we look only at those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Racial gender pay gap numbers reported are relative to white men unless otherwise noted. Due to sample size issues, we are unable to report data on Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders beyond the director level.

We also ask respondents to the survey how the COVID-19 crisis has affected their jobs and/or pay. We compare the GPG for different types of respondents. This sample was collected between March 2020 and December 2020 and comprised of 650,804 respondents. These questions include:

Due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic, have your work hours decreased, increased, or remained the same?

  • My work hours have increased.
  • My work hours have decreased.
  • My work hours have remained the same.
  • I was laid off.

Due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic, has your pay decreased, increased, or remained the same?

  • My pay has increased.
  • My pay has decreased.
  • My pay has remained the same.


Total Cash Compensation: TCC combines base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable. It does not include equity (stock) compensation, cash value of retirement benefits, or value of other non-cash benefits (e.g., healthcare).

Median Pay: The median pay is the national median (50th Percentile) total cash compensation (TCC). Half the people doing the job earn more than the median, while half earn less.

Uncontrolled Gender Pay Gap: Median pay for men and women are examined separately, and the difference in the median is reported as the uncontrolled gender pay gap. Variables such as years of experience and education are not controlled for. This provides a picture of the differences in wages earned by men and women in an absolute sense. 

Controlled Gender Pay Gap: This is the amount that a woman earns for every dollar that a comparable man earns. That is, this is the pay difference that exists between the genders after we control for all measured compensable factors. If the controlled pay gap is $0.98, then a woman would earn 98 cents for every dollar that a man earns with the same employment characteristics.

Controlled Median Pay: To illustrate the gender pay gap, we calculate this estimate of what the typical woman would earn if she occupied the same position as the typical man. 

Unemployment Penalty: This is the percentage difference in the salary offered to an individual who is currently employed versus one who is currently unemployed, excluding those who were unemployed to attend school or receive additional training. The unemployment penalty changes based on the duration of unemployment.

Industries: PayScale uses 15 industry categories that are custom aggregates of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

Occupations: We report data for 22 occupations as defined by the Standard Occupational Classification System.

Job Levels

Individual Contributor: Employees who do not manage others.

Supervisors/Managers: Employees with people management responsibilities.

Directors: Employees who manage managers, but are below the level of vice president.

Executives: Employees with the title of vice president or hire.

Percent Men/Women (BLS): We present the gender breakdown by job group or industry according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey from January 2021.

For Industries, we calculated a weighted average of the custom PayScale aggregations of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) groups when definitions span multiple NAICS industries (e.g. Technology).


Respondents could choose one or more of the following and could opt to self-identify in a open-response.

  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
  • White

Only respondents who chose exactly one of the above were included in our analysis of the gender pay gap by race.

Lifetime Earnings

Lifetime earnings is the sum of median pay from each year, over 40 years, where each year the median pay increases by 3 percent. This is because 3 percent has been found in previous research to be a standard annual increase in base pay by the majority of employers.

Top 20 Jobs

For 2021, PayScale provides the Top 20 Jobs with the largest gender pay gaps. This report is based off of 40,415 profiles that completed PayScale’s online salary survey between 01/01/2019 and 01/01/2021, providing information about their years of experience, occupation, location and other compensable factors. They also reported demographic information, including gender. We leveraged this sample to provide insights into the largest controlled gender pay gaps by occupation in the U.S.

Find out more about PayScale’s methodology