While men widely earn more than women in the United States, Asian-Americans have the widest gender wage gap compared to other racial groups.
Asian-Americans have the highest pay among women, earning about $770 a week. In fact, when compared to white men, Asian-American women come closest in pay — averaging about 87.6 cents to the white man’s dollar.
But when compared to men of their same race, that’s where they fall short. Asian-American women have the widest gender pay gap of all, averaging just 73 cents to the Asian American man’s dollar.
“The pay gap affects all women, but it doesn’t affect all women equally,” said Linda Meric, executive director of 9to5, a nationwide advocacy group for working women founded in 1973.
Women have become more and more active in the labor force over the last 40 years. The percentage of women in the workforce has risen from around 41 in 1970 to 53 in 2011. Still, women’s median weekly earnings are less than their male peers. Compared with white men, Hispanic women’s earnings were the lowest, while Asian-American women have the highest median wage, 87.6 percent of men’s earnings.
Catherine Hill, vice president for research of the American Association of University Women, which focuses on equity and education for women and girls, attributes Asian-Americans’ higher pay to education.
“Some groups are much better educated than others, and that can obviously lead to better earning,” Hill said. “Comparing women to other women by racial and ethnic groups, education has its positive effect on all groups of people, but it has a bigger effect on some rather than others.”
Asian women and men earned more than their white, black and Hispanic counterparts in 2012, according to the Labor Department. Fifty-eight percent of Asians in the labor force had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 36 percent of white and 26 percent of black workers. Only 17 percent of Hispanics in the labor force have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Kim Huynh, who has two MBA degrees and one doctorate, now owns a consulting company called The Small Business Strategist LLC in Los Angeles.
“I started my business based on a referral network,” said Huynh, now 50. “After so many years in business and in education, I knew a lot of people, so all I did was just go back to the people and ask them to refer business to me.”
Now, as CEO, Huynh has an annual income around $200,000. As a single businesswoman who works with client companies as daily routine, Huynh said she doesn’t see many Asian-American women earn as much as she does; 95 percent of her clients, who are 25 percent Asian-American, are male.
Huynh said white male CEOs she knows earn at least at the same level, sometimes even more than she does. In addition, Asian-American men seem to outpace their white counterparts in terms of annual income, which makes their earnings higher than Asian-American women.
Though Asian-American women are most likely to hold a four-year-college degree or higher, which increases earnings in every racial group, they are paradoxically influenced by higher education when it comes to a women-to-men wage ratio within their own demographic group.
“While education raises pay for women, it does not close the pay gap,” Meric said, adding that the gender wage gap is in fact the largest among groups with the highest level of education.
When Latino and African-American women work in lower-paid jobs like retail or service, Meric said, they may earn close to minimum wage. So their pay may not be dramatically different from their male counterparts’.
Compared with men in the same racial groups, Hispanic and African-American women’s earnings were 88 and 90 percent respectively, the highest among different racial groups.
Joann Diaz, 47, a security guard at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, works eight hours a day and is paid $12.10 an hour. Her husband, Eric, 45, also works eight hours a day and earns $10 an hour at Bag’s Inc., a luggage transportation company.
“But he gets tips,” Joann Diaz said. “He can come home with $150 in tips just for a day, but on paper I do earn more than him.”
As women go up the educational ladder, they face more career opportunities. But “The gap actually grows,” Meric said.
Not all women from different racial groups have the same access to highly paid jobs. Stephanie Román, a researcher at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said that even when Hispanic women have the same jobs as Asian-American women, they are sometimes differently.
For Asian women in management and financial “weekly median earning is $1,225,” Román said. “It’s $865 for Latino women and $982 for black women.”
Discrimination in the workplace and stereotypes of women’s position both there and at home all explain why the gender pay gap becomes more pronounced in higher-paid jobs, Meric said.
Among the five leading occupations in median weekly earnings for women in 2012, including registered nurse and manager, men’s earnings in the same positions always outpaced women’s, even by $300 more for accountants or auditors.
In addition, among full-time workers, men were more likely to work longer hours in 2012. The Labor Department report shows that 26 percent of men worked 41 or more hours a week, while only 14 percent of women did. One constraint that 9to5 highlighted in workplace is the lack of flexibility for working women, Meric said.
“Although women and men’s roles are changing in our society, the fact is, women are primarily responsible for taking care of families,” she added.
Even Asian-American women have had many different experiences, Meric said. That group ranges from highly educated new immigrants to refugees.
“It’s important to recognize that within those numbers, there’re still a lot of diverse stories,” she added.