Female SDOT employee hammers survey marker into asphalt.

Women’s History Month: progress and paychecks

A look at women’s earnings in the region.

In the last decade, women in the U.S. have increased their earnings, education and fields of occupation, and they continue to have longer average life spans than men.

But when it comes to salaries, many women still lag behind.

In the central Puget Sound region, median earnings are 25% lower for women—about the same as the difference seen nationally.

While men in this region earned a median annual pay of $65,000 in 2019, women earned $52,000. Earnings are based on wages and salaries for individual workers.

Women in the central Puget Sound region have about the same education levels as men, so why is there a difference?

PSRC dug into the numbers to find out more.

We learned that more women than men work in education, health care and social services (32% women vs. 10% men)—all sectors that tend to have lower-paying jobs.

There’s also an earnings gap in the higher-paid sectors. The median income for women in professional, scientific and management fields is $32,000 less than for men.

National data on earnings and job sectors shows a similar pattern of women being paid less in the same industries and working in lower-paid industries.

Even the highest-paid workers have an income gap. While 34% of full-time male workers have a personal income over $100,000, only 19% of female workers make more than $100,000.

The numbers across racial groups

Slicing the data by racial group reveals other differences.

Asian women have the highest median income, but also the biggest pay discrepancy; their median was $24,000 (-43%) less than Asian men.

Women in the Black or African American, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander racial groups, as well as those who identify as some other race, had the lowest median earnings.

Only one group of women out-earned men: American Indian and Alaska Native workers. They averaged $3,000 (7%) higher. The next closest group of earners to men were Black or African American women, whose median earnings were $5,000 (-13%) less than their male counterparts.

Transgender and non-binary people

The Census Bureau reports on data by biological sex, so our analysis is limited to females and males. A national survey in 2021 by the Human Rights Campaign found that transgender women, transgender men and non-binary people are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S. The median earnings for trans women are 60% of the typical worker’s.

All gender identities are important to understand disparities and PSRC will continue to work on getting better data.

The complexities of earnings differences

There’s no simple answer for why disparities exist between men’s and women's pay.

We know that women are more likely to work part-time or not work at all. That may be by choice, or it may be out of necessity. Some women have to leave the workforce or work fewer hours to do unpaid work caring for children or older family members. As a result, they may also have fewer years of work experience.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were more likely to stop working to educate and care for children during remote instruction.

Women in the workforce is one of PSRC’s focus areas for the Regional Economic Strategy, which explores strategies to address the challenges faced by women in our region and provides a blueprint for regional collaboration.