In an ideal world, Tuesday's Equal Pay Day — which symbolizes how long into the year women have to work to earn the same amount as men did the prior year — would be no days and every day at once.
For some of us, that may be close to a reality. It seems that a pay gap basically doesn't exist for millennial women, of which I am one. Pew Research Center analysis of census data, published in December, "shows that today's young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men."
The White House uses the disputed data point that, according to U.S. Census statistics, full-time working women earn on average only 77 cents to their male counterpart's dollar. Pew's analysis looks at median hourly earnings of full- and part-time workers (men tend to work more hours, and women are more likely to work part-time) to find that in 2012 women ages 16 and older made 84 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts. According to Pew, women's median hourly earnings for those ages 25-34 — which, yes, doesn't encompass all millennials and includes some Gen Xers (according to Pew's definition of millennials being born after 1980) — were 93 percent of men's in 2012.
Millennial women are also about as likely to ask for raises or promotions as millennial men — 42 percent versus 48 percent (a statistically insignificant difference according to Pew). That's great for "leaning in" but leads to the question of whether young workers should be asking for raises and promotions at all because ... well you know all of that stuff about being lazy and entitled.
Sadly for those of us who are millennial women, we're not in the clear. For starters, 93 percent is not 100 percent. Moreover, the shrinking gap between earnings of young men and women was aided by the fact that the median hourly wage (in 2012 dollars) for young men decreased about 20 percent between 1980 and 2012.
So too, the pay gap will almost certainly grow as female millennials age — get married, have kids and dance recitals and unkempt houses. Looking at historical data, Pew notes that as women grow older, "They fail to keep pace with the overall narrowing of the earnings gap. As a result, within 10 to 15 years of entering the labor force, the newer workers slip behind the ratio for women overall, and in many cases lose ground compared with their younger selves."
Still, young women are increasingly more educated than young men, and their higher levels of learning aren't going to disappear during childbirth. And even when looking at historical data, millennial women today are starting the race with an even narrower gap.
The real challenge is how not to let the gap widen for millennials. We're starting from the right place. Encourage us to go into male-dominated fields if we so desire. Find a way to keep us nipping at the financial heels of our male counterparts, even as we get older and our families grow.
The executive order and presidential memorandum that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday only apply to federal contractors, and the political underpinnings in advance of the midterm elections are unmistakable. But the actions are crucial if only for the way that they underline a cultural issue with an executive pen. Because in 20 years, I hope be celebrating equal pay, and not just on Tuesdays in April.