In 2020, the U.S. Census reported that on average, Black women were paid 58% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid(AAUW, 2020). While African Americans in general experience disproportionate wages, black women experience a substantially wider pay gap due to the compounded effects of racism and sexism. However, equivalent pay in the workplace can be beneficial both for the worker and company as it boosts worker morale, in turn boosting performance for the company.
History Behind the Gender and Wage Gaps
The wage gap in America that is based on race and sex is linked to the history of labor undervaluing women and the institution of slavery undervaluing people of color. Depriving black women of wages was a common practice under the system of slavery and its effects have continued into the post-slavery world resulting in lasting disparities in health, education, safety, and opportunities. Moreover, the cultural stereotypes surrounding women have continually led society to undervalue their work, in turn paying women less than a man for the same amount of work.
Factors Behind the Gender Pay Gap that Black Women Encounter
Black women live in a world of sexism and racism, which are distinct forms of discrimination that create various impacts, but when combined, their effects can cause even greater detriment. This combination limits black women’s educational and growth opportunities, impeding their career development and adding to the gender and racial wealth gap present in today’s society.
2. The Wealth Gap
The medium wealth of Black households in 2019 was $24,100 compared to the $189,100 for white households; the Black households had a $165,000 difference in wealth (AAUW, 2020). While this wealth gap is traced back to slavery, segregation, and redlining rooted in history, it spans across generations to modern society. It is the perpetrator of unequal pay and diminished opportunities for African Americans as it depleted their access to resources and opportunities.
In theory, education is supposed to be the equalizer, shield people from discrimination and provide equal opportunities to those in need. However, one of the biggest hurdles is gaining access to education with its rising cost. A study done in 2022 in New York City noted that white women who attend college are much more likely to receive financial help from family than Black women (AAUW, 2022). Moreover, Black women are more likely to use a loan as a method to pay for school. However, the racial and gender motivated wealth gap makes it difficult for them to repay these loans and intensifies the pressure they have to be economically secure. Hence, education alone cannot close the wage gap they experience.
4. Occupational Segregation
Historically, Black women are more likely to work in lower-paying occupations and industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of Black women who are full time minimum wage workers is higher than any other racial or ethnic group.
In addition to being overrepresented in low paying jobs, Black women are underrepresented at the top. Statistics show that they make up just 1% of the high-paying engineering jobs and 3% of the computing jobs (AAUW, 2020). Even if Black women break into these industries, the discriminatory practices companies implement usually drives them out.
Equal pay is crucial as it not only affects Black women, but those around them. More than 80% of Black women are the sole breadwinner of their households and a fair salary can allow Black women to support their families fairly (AAUW, 2020). It also can make a greater economic impact as they can support their families to their greatest potential. The Social Consult supports a system that amounts to equal pay for all and that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
AAUW. (2020). Black Women & the Pay Gap – AAUW : Empowering Women Since 1881. AAUW : Empowering Women since 1881. https://www.aauw.org/resources/article/black-women-and-the-pay-gap/
The Perfect Storm: How the Confluence of Generational Wealth Gaps, Gender and Racial Pay Gaps, and the COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbated Student Loan Debt for Women of Color. (2022). American Association of University Women (AAUW); AAUW. https://www.aauw.org/app/uploads/2022/08/PerfectStorm_NYC-Student-Debt-Survey-Report_Aug-2022.pdf
Source: McNicholas, Celine and Margaret Poydock (2020). “Who are essential workers? A comprehensive look at their wages, demographics, and unionization rate.” Working Economics Blog. Economic Policy Institute. May 19, 2020.23
Source: AAUW calculations based on five select low-wage occupations (defined by a median weekly income of less than $500) using U.S. Census Bureau, 2018