Americans Say Equal Pay Top Issue for Working Women

Americans Say Equal Pay Top Issue for Working Women

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Equal opportunity for advancement is second

This article is featured in "Women and the Workplace," a weeklong series exploring a variety of issues affecting modern working women.

PRINCETON, NJ -- Nearly four in 10 Americans say equal pay is the top issue facing working women in the United States today, a sentiment shared by roughly the same proportions of men, women, and working women. About twice as many Americans mention equal pay as cite the second-ranked issue -- equal opportunity for advancement. No other issue is cited by more than 10% of Americans.

What do you think are the most important issues facing working women in this country today? [OPEN-ENDED], September 2014

The results are based on an open-ended question asked in a Sept. 25-30 Gallup poll. There are almost as many working women as working men in the U.S. And many women today seek not only to have jobs but to establish their careers and advance in them. But working women continue to face challenges that differ from those of working men. As an example, last week, Microsoft's CEO sparked controversy when asked about one of the major challenges for working women -- pay equity -- when he suggested that women should not ask for raises but rely on the system to deliver fair pay to them.

Americans clearly see norms of fairness and equality -- in terms of pay and the opportunity to get ahead -- as the greatest challenges for working women. These surpass issues such as how women are treated in the workplace and balancing parenthood with work, but these more practical concerns certainly are not absent from the list of issues facing women. For example, 8% of Americans mention that respectful treatment of female employees, including sexual harassment, is an issue in the workplace. Another 7% mention access to childcare, and 6% mention balancing work and home life.

For the most part, men, women, and working women have similar ideas about the challenges facing working women. The greatest perceptual differences appear between men and working women with respect to the top-of-mind importance of childcare, work-home balance, and healthcare. Few men, no more than 3%, mention these as the most important challenges for working women. But 9% of working women mention healthcare, 10% mention balancing work and home life, and 12% mention childcare.

Men in general are also less likely than women and working women to cite any issue, as 20% of men do not have an opinion, compared with 12% of all women and 8% of working women.

While there are not wide differences by gender in perceptions of the key issues for working women, the views of political liberals and conservatives diverge. Liberals are nearly twice as likely as conservatives, 51% to 28%, to mention equal pay as the biggest challenge working women face. Despite this difference, it is still the most commonly mentioned issue for conservatives.

View of Most Important Issues Facing Working Women in United States Today, by Political Ideology, September 2014

Liberals are also much more likely than conservatives to mention equal opportunity. In contrast, conservatives are more likely than liberals to mention the availability of jobs as the top issue for working women.

Conservatives are also much more likely than liberals not to offer a response -- 26% of conservatives do not have an opinion, compared with 8% of liberals.


Americans regard basic norms of fairness and equality -- specifically in terms of pay and opportunities to advance -- as the greatest issues facing working women today. Although there are almost as many working women as working men in the U.S. today, and women are increasingly rising to positions of prominence in business, they still as a group lag behind men in pay and in the percentage of upper management positions they hold.

In fact, equal pay for women has become a major issue this year. In addition to the controversy regarding the Microsoft CEO's comments, pay equity has also become a significant issue in this year's political campaigns. And it resonates with voters -- ranking among the most important issues in this year's elections. The prominence of the issue in this year's campaign may also explain why it is top-of-mind for Americans as the most important issue facing working women.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 25-30, 2014, with a random sample of 1,252 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 233 working women, the margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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