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4.4: Gender Inequality in the United States

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    Wage Disparity

    Wage disparities between males and females are often justified as labor-based economic supply and demand. Statistics show past and current discrepancies in lower pay for women. Diane White, during a 1997 presentation to the United Nations General Assembly, stated that, “Today the wage disparity gap cost American women $250,000 over the course of their lives.”55


    Figure \(4.4.1\) Graph of "The Gender Pay Gap: Annual Earnings

    Nationally, the median annual pay for a woman who holds a full-time, year- round job is $40,742 while the median annual pay for a man who holds a full-time, year-round job is $51,212.This means that, overall, women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.56

    The wage gap can be even larger for women of color. For example, among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs in the United States, African American women are typically paid 63 cents and Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.57 Asian women are paid 85 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, although some ethnic subgroups of Asian women fare much worse.

    Why the lower wages for women? The traditional definition of the reproductive roles of women as being “broken, diseased, or flawed” is part of the answer of wage disparity. The idea that reproductive roles interfere with the continuity of the workplace play heavily into wage disparity. The argument can be made that (outdated) traditional and economic factors have led to the existing patterns of paying women less for work requiring their same education, experience, and efforts compared to men.

    Wage disparity will be discussed further in the Women and Work chapter.


    Women have had to fight for equal treatment in American politics, from fighting for the right to vote to fighting for a seat at the political table. Women are still fighting to break the highest political glass ceiling of all--the presidency. While the United States has legislation mandating gender equality, gender discrimination occurs regularly in politics. It wasn’t until 1981 that the first female Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O’Connor) was appointed. She was later joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has been succeeded by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Currently, three of the nine sitting justices are women. In 1996, President Bill Clinton appointed Madeline Albright to be the first female Secretary of State, a post later given to Condoleezza Rice by President George W. Bush in 2005, and later held by Hillary Clinton under President Obama.

    Women in politics took center stage in the 2008 election. In the primary season, New York Senator Hillary Clinton ran against future President Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. Although Clinton was the twenty-fifth woman to run for U.S. President, she was the first female candidate to have a significant chance of winning the nomination of a major party and the general election. Comments about Clinton's body, cleavage, choice of pantsuit, and speculation about cosmetic surgery popped up over airwaves. Many wondered if the same fixation on a candidate's body and style would happen to a male candidate. Clinton would later become the first woman to win the nomination of a major party in 2016. Good news for women, right? Well, it wasn’t until 2016, and only one woman has accomplished this feat, making Hillary Clinton an exception rather than indicative of the bigger gender picture in American politics.

    Despite the increasing presence of women in American politics, gender stereotypes still exist. Data from the 2006 American National Election Studies Pilot Study confirmed that both male and female voters, regardless of their political persuasions, expected men to perform better as politicians than women.

    Out of the 100 senate seat positions, women occupy only 20. Making only 20% of the senate female. Women occupy only 104 of the 535 Congress seats. And women hold only 24% of statewide executive positions.


    In the United States most females and males complete some form of formal education. After high school, many go to college. Even though the U.S. population of 18 to 24-year-old males is higher than that of women, women are more likely to attend college based on percentages (57%).58

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in fall 2016, some 20.5 million students are expected to attend American colleges and universities, constituting an increase of about 5.2 million since fall 2000.59 Females are expected to account for the majority of college students. About 11.7 million females will attend in Fall, 2016, compared with 8.8 million males. Also, more students are expected to attend full-time than part-time (an estimated 12.7 million, compared with about 7.9 million).60

    About 7.2 million students will attend two-year institutions, and 13.3 million will attend four- year institutions in Fall, 2016. Some 17.5 million students are expected to enroll in undergraduate programs, and about 3.0 million will enroll in post-baccalaureate programs.

    However, even while making the gains women have by entering college at higher rates than men, they have not achieved equality in the classroom. Today’s college classrooms still contain subtle, and not so subtle, gender biases. A large body of research shows that instructors.

    1. Call on male students more frequently than female students;
    2. are more likely to use male students’ names when calling upon students and in attributing ideas advanced in discussion;
    3. ask male students more abstract questions and female students more factual questions; and
    4. are less likely to elaborate upon points made by female students.61

    There is, however, a notable gender segregation in degree choice, correlated with lower incomes for graduates with "feminine" degrees, such as education or nursing, and higher incomes for those with "masculine" degrees, such as engineering.62 The STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—have traditionally had more males than females. For example, men dominate the tech industry, and for women, the numbers aren’t growing. A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found only one in seven engineers is female. Additionally, women have seen no employment growth in STEM jobs since 2000. The problem starts as early as grade school. Young girls are rarely encouraged to pursue math and science, which is problematic considering studies show a lack of belief in intellectual growth can actually inhibit it. In addition, there exists an unconscious bias that science and math are typically “male” fields, while humanities and arts are primarily “female” fields. These stereotypes further inhibit girls’ likelihood of cultivating an interest in math and science.


    Between 0.3% and 0.5% of Americans— nearly 1 million people — identify as transgender, according to a recent report, Understanding Issues Facing Transgender Americans, written by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), NCTE and GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Another widely cited study, from the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles, estimated the number at about 700,000 Americans.

    Transgender women of color are the most common targets of transphobic hate crimes. During the first two months of 2015, a transgender woman of color was murdered almost once a week, according to the Southern Policy Law Center.63 One man charged with attempted murder of a trans woman said the woman and her friend were deceiving him by dressing as women, even though they weren't even talking to him. Perhaps this reflects one reason trans women tend to be targeted: In addition to hating trans people in general, some men behave as if women are property. Transphobia and misogyny are a deadly combination.


    On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Overall data suggests 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of (some form of) physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. Further, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed.

    Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime. Physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health effects have been linked with intimate partner violence including adolescent pregnancy, unintended pregnancy in general, miscarriage, stillbirth, intrauterine hemorrhage, nutritional deficiency, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders, chronic pain, disability, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Victims of domestic violence are also at higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.64

    Rape and Sexual Assault

    The United States Justice Bureau defines rape as “forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means penetration by the offender(s). Includes attempted rapes, male as well as female victims, and both heterosexual and same sex rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.”65 One in five women and one in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime. Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner. From 1995 to 2010, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations declined 58%, from five victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older to 2.1 per 1,000. In 2005-10, females who were age 34 or younger, who lived in lower income households, and who lived in rural areas experienced some of the highest rates of sexual violence. In 2005-10, 78% of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend, or acquaintance.

    The United States Justice Bureau defines sexual assault as a “wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. It also includes verbal threats.”66 One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. While rape remains the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. 46.4% lesbians, 74.9% bisexual women and 43.3% heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes, while 40.2% gay men, 47.4% bisexual men and 20.8% heterosexual men reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes.67

    55 Retrieved 5 December from

    56 U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement: Table PINC- 05: Work Experience in 2015 –People 15 Years Old and Over by Total Money Earnings in 2015, Age, Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Disability Status. Retrieved 12 October 2016, from series/demo/income-poverty/cps-pinc/pinc-05.html (Unpublished calculation based on the median annual pay for all women and men who worked full time, year-round in 2015)
    57 Ibid
    58 USA Today 19 October, 2005, College Gender Gap Widens: 57% are Women, retrieved 8 December 2008 from
    59 ables /dt15_105.20.asp?current=yes
    60 Ibid
    61 Gender Issues in the College Classroom. Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Teaching Center. Columbia University. New York.
    62 Jacobs, Jerry A. (1996). "Gender inequality and higher education". Annual Review of Sociology. 22: 153–185
    63 Retrevied on 18 November, 2016 form 3700fbf2203d#.v67ddiplq
    64 World Health Organization. 2013. Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence.
    65 Bureau of Justice Statistics. Rape and Sexual Assaults.
    66 Ibid
    67 Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: S_SOfindings.pd

    This page titled 4.4: Gender Inequality in the United States is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Katie Coleman via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.