Revisiting timely research that explores U.S. intersectional wage gaps amid Women’s History Month


The U.S. labor market faced one of the most severe challenges in recent history with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. In the 2 years since then, the U.S. labor market rebounded at an astonishing pace. Yet despite this record growth, millions of workers were laid off amid the coronavirus recession and are only now beginning to return to workplaces, and millions more continue to experience serious workplace disruptions, from public health restrictions to reduced hours to child and elder care crises and more.

Women workers and workers of color unfortunately bear the brunt of these disruptions, with those who sit at the intersection of these groups—women workers of color—experiencing even worse outcomes. This group of U.S. workers not only struggled more during the pandemic and ensuing recession, but also historically and generally face added challenges arising from discrimination and structural racism and sexism embedded in the U.S. labor market.

We can’t think of a better time than Women’s History Month—which began on March 1 and follows Black History Month in February—to review the research on intersectional wage gaps in the U.S. economy. Below, we revisit some of our more recent coverage of studies examining the impact and implications of gender and racial earnings disparities in the United States, as well as policy ideas to address and close these gaps.

Factsheet: U.S. occupational segregation by race, ethnicity, and gender,” by Equitable Growth

Occupational segregation is defined as a group’s overrepresentation or underrepresentation in certain industries or jobs. This 2020 factsheet covers how occupational segregation contributes to wage penalties and earnings divides in the United States, entrenching inequality and hindering economic well-being for workers.

Gender wage inequality in the United States: Causes and solutions to improve family well-being and economic growth,” by Equitable Growth

This 2019 factsheet builds upon the 2018 cornerstone report, “Gender wage inequality: What we know and how we can fix it,” by sociologist Sarah Jane Glynn. The factsheet details the underlying factors behind the gender pay gap in the United States, including occupational segregation and discrimination, and presents a variety of policy solutions that would address this divide.

Addressing the ‘double gap’ faced by Black women in the U.S. economy,” by Michelle Holder

In this column from 2021, Equitable Growth’s President and CEO Michelle Holder details her research on the wage differentials that Black women workers in the United States face, compared to White men, White women, and Black men in the U.S. labor force. She also discusses testimony she gave to Congress on this double gap—evidence that provided several avenues for policymakers to close these divides.

What recent data-driven research can tell policymakers about Black Women’s Equal Pay Day,” by Equitable Growth

This 2021 research round-up summarizes a handful of studies that look into pay penalties faced by Black women in the United States. It highlights research from Equitable Growth’s Holder, as well as several other leading economists, who examine various aspects of the structural discrimination that holds back Black women workers in the U.S. labor market.

The intersectional wage gaps faced by Latina women in the United States,” by Kate Bahn and Will McGrew

This 2018 issue brief examines the structural barriers that Latina women face in the U.S. labor market that stem from both gender and racial and ethnic discrimination. The authors calculate the wage divides that Latina workers experience and then disaggregate the results by national origin, immigration history, and education level to get a better understanding of how different groups within the broader Latina community fare. They also review the effects on U.S. labor force participation and overall U.S. economic growth.

The intersectional wage divides faced by Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women in the United States,” by Kate Bahn and Carmen Sanchez Cumming

Like other women of color, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women face intersectional penalties that arise from structural racial and gender discrimination. Yet little empirical research looks into the challenges AANHPI women face in the U.S. labor market. This issue brief from 2021 studies these wage gaps and breaks them out by subgroups to examine how different AANHPI women come up against different barriers. This issue brief followed a 2021 column that details four ways to understand pay divides faced by AANHPI women.

Addressing gender and racial disparities in the U.S. labor market to boost wages and power innovation,” by Lisa Cook

This 2021 essay—included in Boosting Wages for U.S. Workers in the New Economy, a compilation of 10 essays exploring alternative policies for boosting wages and living standards in the United States—looks at disparities in innovation along race and gender lines. Cook discusses how the lack of diversity in innovation and invention affects the overall economy and proposes several policies that would close the racial and gender divides in U.S. innovation.

Wage discrimination and the exploitation of workers in the U.S. labor market,” by Kate Bahn, Mark Stelzner, and Emilie Openchowski

This 2020 report debunks the so-called human capital model, which is often used to explain racial and gender pay divides by leaning on alleged differences in productivity stemming from “skills gaps” or differing education levels among groups of workers. The co-authors show that the human capital model does not match the empirical evidence. They then propose that boosting worker power and reducing employer monopsony power would not only decrease worker exploitation but also address wage differentials and discriminatory bias across the U.S. labor market.


While it is not news that women workers of color face added challenges in accessing and navigating the U.S. labor market, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the disparities they already experience. This Women’s History Month, policymakers should focus on leveling the playing field for all workers across the United States—particularly those who historically are the most disadvantaged.


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