Over the past 40 years, women in the United States increased their work hours, and their rising incomes became a significant part of overall household financial stability. More working women also contributed mightily to stronger economic growth. These additional earnings have made the financial difference for families across races and up and down the income spectrum while also boosting economic growth.

Yet despite all of these gains, women are still severely limited by gender pay inequality, which for a number of reasons keeps women’s average earnings at nearly 20 percent less than men’s average earnings. Here are the topline numbers from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s new report, “Gender wage inequality: What we know and how we can fix it.”

  • Women makeup half of the U.S. population (50.8 percent) and are close to half of all currently employed workers (46.7 percent).
  • The average earnings of all women who work full time, year-round are 80.5 percent (routinely reported as 81 percent) of men who work full time, year-round. This adds up to total wage differences of more than $799 billion annually.
  • The wage gap is worse for black women and Latinas. 
  • Women’s earnings are critical to families’ financial well-being. Women are more likely than men to be single heads of households raising children. And as wages have stagnated, the families that have experienced real, inflation-adjusted income growth since the 1970s are likely to be married couples where the wife works.
  • Women’s earnings also support economic growth. Research finds that if women had not increased their work hours since 1979, GDP in 2012 would have been 11 percent lower than it would have been otherwise, resulting in $1.7 trillion less in output.