The country’s number of working single mothers who live in poverty would drop from about 30 percent to 15 percent, researchers estimate, if they earned on average as much as comparably skilled men.
“A lot of attention is paid to the wage gap, but people aren’t necessarily thinking about it in terms of economic self-sufficiency or income inequality,” said Barbara Gault, executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Too often the gender picture is left out of that.”
Raises for women could drastically change the financial picture for a lot of families: About 40 percent of American households with children have female breadwinners, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. That share was just 11 percent in 1960.
The national push for pay parity is fueling progress — slowly. Over the past 30 years, inflation-adjusted median earnings for women’s full-time, year-round work rose nationally from $30,138 to $39,157, the IWPR found. Men's earnings dipped slightly from $50,096 to $50,033. Still, researchers project that we won’t see equal pay until 2058.
To measure the wage gap’s effect on economic struggle, the IWPR authors used American Community Survey data from 2013 to take a closer look at U.S. households below the poverty line. They found single women with children fared far worse than single men with kids:
The well-documented obstacles working parents face, of course, contribute to this problem and aren’t restricted to one gender: Child-care costs remain sky-high (and often exceed the cost of rent in a family budget), paid leave is lacking in jobs across the country, and schedule flexibility is notoriously rare in American workplaces.
But jobs more often held by female workers without college degrees (child care, retail, administrative work) tend to pay much less than roles dominated by men with the same level of education (plumbing, electricity, contract work).
A complex web of factors exacerbate the wage gap. Poor women continue to face disproportionate financial challenges.