Declining wages among men drove 40 percent of the progress in closing the U.S. gender wage gap over the past 35 years, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute.
Experts at the Washington, D.C.-based progressive think tank highlighted that finding last month as they unveiled a "Women's Economic Agenda." EPI's 12-point policy agenda looks to improve economic security for women and families by closing the gender pay gap and promoting broad-based wage growth.
"Over the last several decades women have entered the workforce in record numbers and made great strides in educational attainment. Nevertheless, when compared with men, women are still paid less, are more likely to hold low-wage jobs, and are more likely to live in poverty," reads the agenda's accompanying report by EPI's Alyssa Davis and Elise Gould. "Gender wage disparities are present at all wage levels and within education categories, occupations, and sectors--sometimes to a grave degree."
The "Women's Economic Agenda" calls for raising the minimum wage, expanding access to paid sick and family leave and strengthening collective bargaining rights, among other measures.
"To maximize women's economic security, we must raise wages by pursuing policies that intentionally tilt bargaining power back toward low- and moderate-wage workers, and we must end discriminatory practices that contribute to the gender wage gap," the experts wrote.
The report draws attention to the slow progress in closing the gender wage gap over the past 35 years.
In 2014, women's median hourly earnings were $15.21. That represents about 89 percent of the $18.35 hourly wage earned by the median man in 2014.
The gender wage gap has shrunk since 1979, when women made 62.7 cents to a man's dollar.
Men's declining wages caused 40 percent of the gender wage gap's closing since 1979, the research showed.
"Allowing low- and moderate-wage men to lose economic ground is not the right way to close the gender wage gap," Gould said. "There is plenty of room in our economy to close the gender wage gap while raising both men's and women's wages significantly."
Over the past three decades, median wage growth for men and women has not kept pace with economy-wide productivity, the experts explained.
Since 1979, hourly wages for the vast majority of workers have stagnated as most of the economy's productivity gains were captured by those at the top. Between 1979 and 2014, productivity grew at 62.7 percent, yet hourly compensation increased just 8 percent, according to the report.
"It is important to note that although women's wages have risen since 1979, these increases occurred in spite of rising inequality, and are attributable to women's disproportionate gains in labor force attachment, educational attainment, and occupational upgrading," the report says. "Had inequality not increased and had the gains from our growing economy been shared among the vast majority, women's wages would be much higher today. And of course, if women's wages had grown rapidly enough to fully close the gender wage gap, their wages would be even higher."
According to EPI, women's median hourly earnings would be 71.2 percent higher today, at $26.04, if the gender wage gap had closed by 1979 and wages grew in line with productivity over the past 35 years.
"The gender wage gap is only one way the economy shortchanges women," Davis said. "Only when we take a holistic approach to women's wages and seek to eliminate both the gender wage gap and the economic inequality gap will women reach their potential in the economy."
EPI is recommending the following 12 policies as part of its Women's Economic Agenda:
Raise the minimum wage--raising the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would boost wages for one-fourth of the workforce, or 35 million working people--56 percent of whom are women.
Eliminate the tipped minimum wage--two-thirds of tipped workers are women, yet they still make less than their male counterparts. At the median, women tipped workers make $10.07 per hour, while men make $10.63 (including tips).
Strengthen collective bargaining rights--women in unions are more likely to be paid higher wages and have access to benefits such as paid sick days and pensions.
End discriminatory practices that contribute to race and gender inequalities--black women earn 65.4 percent and Hispanic women earn 56.5 percent of white men's hourly earnings.
Provide paid family leave--only 12 percent of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave. Without paid family leave policies, workers (particularly women) have difficulty balancing the demands of work and family.
Provide paid sick leave--ensuring that working women can earn paid sick time would let them meet their responsibilities at work and at home without compromising their family's economic security.
Require fair scheduling practices--over one-third of women hourly workers in their prime childrearing years receive their work schedules with advance notice of one week or less.
Provide accessible, affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education--accessible child care would ensure that parents do not need to choose between leaving the labor force and affording quality child care
Protect and expand Social Security--the average female retiree receives over $300 less per Social Security check than her male counterpart.
Provide undocumented workers a path to citizenship--women are concentrated in many occupations likely to be held by undocumented workers.
Support strong enforcement of labor standards--women are more likely than men to be victims of wage theft, and are a majority of workers who would benefit from expanded overtime protections.
Prioritize wage growth and very low unemployment when making monetary policy--better wage growth is crucial to ensuring that gender and racial wage gaps close for the right reasons, with wages rising for all groups but more rapidly for groups currently disadvantaged in labor markets.
Federal lawmakers including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT,3) joined EPI representatives in releasing the agenda last month.
"Raising wages and boosting economic security for women is an essential part of growing and strengthening America's middle class," Warren said at the event. "The proposals in EPI's Women's Economic Agenda would be powerful steps forward in the fight to level the playing field for women and families across the country."