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On National Equal Pay Day, it’s worth noting that gender pay gaps are already forming among the nation’s youngest professionals.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s current population survey, women aged 25-34 and who are not enrolled in school make just 80 percent of what men the same age make.

That’s only slightly better than the current national overall average of 78 percent.

Among the five major occupation groups with substantial shares of females, sales positions had the largest gap, at 65 percent. These include everything from real estate agent to cashier.


General service occupations, like food servers and hotel workers, were closest to parity at 90 percent.


This is largely what women’s advocacy group Catalyst found in a 2010 survey. “The problem isn’t only a late-career phenomenon by which women are denied the big promotion after having advanced steadily alongside men,” the report’s authors wrote in a follow-up piece a year later. “Rather, the entire pipeline is in peril.”

Academics say the picture tends to be somewhat more nuanced. Harvard professor Claudia Goldin has found that the gender gap in pay for first employment after MBA is almost zero, although it then widens considerably, especially after women have children.


“This isn’t discrimination, as we usually mean the term,” she told Fusion in an email.

Instead, Goldin has found it is often the result of how professions are structured, and the fact that many base pay around hours worked, a component that gets instantly attenuated for parents.


Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, has also found large variations in the size of the gap, which can range from 65% for women with a Masters degree and no children (though perhaps not MBAs), all the way up to 93% for a never-married professional degree holder, or a PhD holder with no kids (for women of any age).


But like Goldin, he says that among other factors, workplaces’ lack of accommodation to their employees having kids is a huge driver of inequality. He has cited a recent New York Times story about a woman fired for being pregnant — which is illegal — to show how this works, and why the idea that women’s choices set them up for inequality, as even some women have argued, is bogus.

“Sure, a lot of women chose to get pregnant (and a lot of men choose to become fathers),” he wrote last fall. “But getting fired and ending up in a lower paid job as a result is not part of that choice (and it doesn’t happen to fathers). The overall difference in pay between men and women, which reflects a complicated mix of factors, is a good indicator of inequality.”


As long as millennial women plan to have kids — and as long as their employers continue to refrain from accommodating them — the gap will likely persist.

Get in on the conversation by following the hashtag #EqualPayDay.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.