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America's gender pay gap has shrunk to an all-time low, data shows

New data shows women make 16% less than men
Gender pay gap at lowest point ever, but women still make 16% less than men 05:02

The pay gap between what U.S. women with a full-time job earn compared with their male peers is now the smallest on record, according to the Labor Department.

Women now make 84 cents for every $1 men earn for similar work, with a median weekly paycheck of $1,001 for female workers compared to $1,185 for men, federal data shows. Although that suggests women continue to face obstacles in the workplace, the latest figures also point to a measure of progress — a decade ago, on average women nationwide earned 78% of men's earnings. And when the U.S. government first started tracking pay by gender in 1979, the average working woman made 62% of what men in similar jobs earned.

Several factors are helping to reduce the gender pay gap, Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, told CBS News. 

"Women are getting more education and they're having children later, so they're focusing on their careers more," she said. 

The pandemic has also played a role, boosting demand in some traditionally female-dominated professions while making working women's lives easier in other industries. Nurse practitioners, pharmacists and health services managers — jobs that are mostly done by women — have seen a large boost in pay in recent years, Pollak said.

The shift to remote work and increased flexibility in some white-collar jobs has also had an effect, she added, making it easier for women, who still do most of the caretaking, to balance family and career.

"Norms are changing, more fathers are participating in child care, and women are increasingly entering male-dominated fields like construction and computer-related fields," Pollak said.

Although the gender pay gap persists, Pollak predicted the difference will continue to narrow, noting that the differential in earnings is even smaller for women ages 16 to 24.

"The younger generation of women are seeing themselves as career women first, and they are demanding to be treated equally in the workplace," she said. 

Government policy, such as those mandating increased paid family leave and greater subsidies for child care, can help close the gap even further, Pollak added.

For women workers who wonder if they're being underpaid, research is crucial — especially if they're applying for a position that doesn't disclose pay upfront. Especially in male-dominated fields, like technology and law, women are often less informed about the market rate for work and ask for lower salaries than men, Pollak said.

"Getting informed first, knowing what the pay is in that role, is crucial so you can negotiate and put your best foot forward," she said.

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