As droves of women left the workforce last year, those who managed to hold onto their jobs made 84 per cent of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.

In other words, women in the U.S. would have to work an additional 42 days to pull in the same amount of money as men did. That gap remained unchanged from a year earlier, found Pew, which analyzed median hourly earnings for full- and part- time workers. 

The pandemic economically devastated women in the U.S., with nearly 2 million leaving the labor force altogether since February last year. By one estimate, women around the world lost at least US$800 billion in income last year, according to a report from Oxfam International, the global charity non-profit. That was largely due to working in industries hardest hit by the Covid recession, such as retail and tourism. Many women also left their jobs to care for kids whose schools and daycares closed. 

Much of the gender pay gap is due to women’s over-representation in the lowest paying jobs and fields. The lack of paid family leave, bias against mothers for taking time off, and the so-called “ chores gap” also hurts women’s earnings. The pay gap is much smaller for younger women, before many have kids; those aged 25 to 34 make 93 cents for every dollar a man earns. 

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to say taking time off after birth or adoption had a negative impact on their job or career, Pew found in 2016.  In a 2019 Pew survey, mothers with children younger than 18 were more likely than fathers to say they needed to reduce their work hours, felt like they couldn’t give full effort at work and turned down a promotion because they were balancing work and parenting responsibilities. 

Sending young children back to school will do most to improve women’s economic fortunes, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.