In her Academy Awards acceptance speech Sunday for best supporting actress, Patricia Arquette called for wage equality in America.
As an actress, it's possible that Arquette was prompted to make this statement by the news, first reported by Fusion's Kevin Roose, that of the 17 Sony Pictures' executives with million-dollar salaries, just one was a woman. And she just got fired.
But the problem extends far beyond Hollywood. The Institute for Women's policy research has estimated that the earnings gap won't be sealed until 2058.
"Progress in closing the gender earnings gap, based on both weekly and annual earnings, has slowed considerably since the 1980s and early 1990s," they write. "Based on median weekly earnings, the gender earnings gap narrowed by only 1.7 percentage points during the last ten years (2004 to 2013); in the previous ten year period (1994 to 2003), it narrowed by 3.1 percentage points, and during the ten years prior to that (1984 to 1993), by 9.7 percentage points.
The reasons for this pause in advancement aren't entirely clear. Sarah Jane Glynn, associate director of women's economic policy at the Center for American Progress, has said that although more women are attending college, they may be choosing majors that aren't especially remunerative.
Of course, that choice itself may be a reflection of explicit or implicit gender discrimination or biases in more lucrative industries. Whether it's the cause or the result, female-dominated subjects, like social science, tend to yield much lower earnings than male-dominated ones.
But even in heavily female sectors there is often a large pay gap, although there is no distinct correlation between an industry's typical pay level and the extent of its pay gap. Only a handful of professions, like nurses, pharmacists, and advertisement salespeople, see substantial parity between men and women. The worst offenders among all professions are business, finance, surgery and law occupations.
Harvard professor Claudia Goldin has posited that the most enduring glass ceiling may be having children, and how work schedules in certain professions are oriented around them.
In most professions, she found, women's pay takes a hit when they attempt to make their schedules more flexible, usually after they've given birth. Lawyers provide a good example.
"Children require a modicum of parental time, high-income husbands provide little of it, and part-time work for JDs is insufficiently remunerative for some to remain employed," she writes.
The earnings gap declines for the first decade or two of a woman's career. It gets better soon after they hit 40, but never fully recovers.
"Flexibility at work has become a prized benefit but flexibility is of less value if it comes as a high price in terms of earnings," Goldin says. "The various types of temporal flexibility require changes in the structure of work so that their cost is reduced."
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.