For the nearly fifty million Americans living below the poverty line and the more than hundred thousand teetering on the brink, education can be a lifeline to a better future. According to a survey conducted among low-income women for this year’s "Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink," three out of four of the women surveyed wished they had put more of a priority on their education and career. Just 58% of Americans among all income levels agreed.
Yet a half a century after President John F. Kennedy signed legislation making gender-based waged disparity illegal, women are still earning less than men who hold the same job. After decades of movement toward parity, the average female-to-male earnings ratio has flatlined at a rate of 77 cents to the dollar. It remains virtually unchanged since 2001.
But a deeper look into the data reveals that women of all education levels – even women who hold bachelor's and master's degrees—are plagued by a persistent wage gap. According to a study by the American Association of University Women, women who are one year out of college earn 7% less than their male counterparts, even when they earned the same degree, at the same kind of school, and are doing the same job for the same number of hours per week.
The wage gap widens with higher educational attainment: Women who hold a graduate or professional degree earn on average 75.6 cents on each dollar earned by a man with the same level of education in the same position. For women with a college degree, that number ticks up slightly to 79.5 cents on the dollar– virtually in lockstep with women who haven’t earned a high school diploma.
“Overall, a woman with a college degree doing the same work as a man will earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less over the course of her career,” President Obama said at a White House Forum on Women and the Economy in April 2012. “Closing this pay gap—ending this pay discrimination—is about far more than simple fairness, it’s about strengthening families, communities and our entire economy,” he wrote in an op-ed a few days later.
According to the Center for Women’s Policy Research, the U.S. economy could produce $447.6 billion in additional income if women were paid an equivalent wage to that of their male counterparts. That’s greater than the GDP of the state of Virginia.