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The Gender Wage Gap Between Unionized Workers Is Tiny — And Shrinking

By Bryce Covert

"The Gender Wage Gap Between Unionized Workers Is Tiny — And Shrinking"

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Woman in factory union

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 cents, meaning that women working full time make more than 90 percent of what men do, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

Among non-union workers, on the other hand, the wage gap is 18.7 cents, about double the gap between union workers. And while the gender wage gap overall hasn’t improved in five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 cents between 2013 and 2012. All workers typically make more when they’re unionized, but women’s bonus is even bigger than men’s, boosting their pay by $222 a week. The premium women see from joining a union is equivalent to the increase in pay from a year of college. And when it comes to benefits, unionized women are far more likely to have health insurance and retirement plans, effects that are even greater than getting a four-year degree.

But not many women are taking advantage of these benefits. Just 11.3 percent of the workforce belongs to a union, the same as last year, compared to more than 20 percent 30 years ago. That’s the lowest level the country has seen since the Great Depression. While women have become a larger share of the unionized workforce, now at more than 45 percent, the share of women workers who are in a union overall has declined.

One reason belonging to a union may have such an impact on the wage gap is that pay tends to be more transparent. On the other hand, about half of all workers are either discouraged or banned from discussing pay with coworkers, making it difficult to root out potential discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit this practice, among other things, giving women more tools to seek pay equity.

But the benefits of unionization accrue to all workers. Falling rates closely track falling wages, but if the share of workers who belong to a union were 10 percent higher, middle class workers would make nearly $1,500 more a year whether or not they belonged to one. Higher rates are also linked to higher economic mobility to move up the income ladder, while falling rates have come alongside rising income inequality.

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