Wages, Wealth, and Poverty:Wages, Wealth, & Poverty: Where Hoosier Women Stand Where Hoosier Women Stand & Ways Our State Can Close the Gaps

  • December 12, 2017
  • Erin Macey, Policy Analyst

In Indiana, women earn less, own less, and experience poverty more often than men. These gaps raise important questions about identity, opportunity, and well-being, and they suggest that our systems could and should be structured differently to promote broader prosperity.


Wage gaps: In 2016 in Indiana, the median earnings of full time male workers were $12,717 higher than the median earnings of full time female workers. This is a 26 percent wage gap. Even as the nation’s wage gap narrowed between 2015 and 2016, Indiana’s wage gap widened 2 percentage points. The Hoosier gender wage gap is now the 6th highest in the nation, not far behind Louisiana and Utah, which, at 30 percent, are tied for the highest in the nation. Within Indiana, there is considerable variation from county to county, with some counties in Indiana showing nearly a 40 percent gap, while others have gaps in the teens.


Particular groups of Hoosier women experience even larger gaps. Black and biracial women experience a gap of 36 percent and the gap between Latinas and all Hoosier men who work full time is 44 percent – a difference of $21,567 per year. Median earnings for women with disabilities is $18,761 – $7428 less than the median earnings of men with disabilities and $21,269 less than men without disabilities. Acknowledging and addressing the distinctive and significant barriers to financial well-being that particular women face because of overlapping social identities is of critical importance.


Wealth gaps. While wage gaps in and of themselves result in significant differences in wealth over a lifetime, these gaps in wealth are compounded by the effect that depressed wages have on the ability of women to save, invest, and use credit. Nationally, there is a gap of 68 percent between the net worth of single men and single women. While a similar figure is not available at the state level, data suggest that Hoosier women disproportionately lack access to the building blocks of wealth. While more single women are buying homes, only 49 percent of female householders own homes as compared to 58 percent of male householders. And just 22 percent of businesses with paid employees are women-owned.


Research also suggests that women have less tucked away for retirement, they take longer to pay down debts like student loans, and are more likely to use higher-cost loan products. This leaves women more vulnerable to financial shocks and less able to retire with dignity.


Poverty gaps. Women are more likely to experience poverty than men. Statewide, 15.4 percent of women had incomes below the poverty line in 2016, while only 12.7 percent of men experienced poverty. Looking by family type, single mothers experience significantly higher poverty rates than married couples and single fathers: nearly 40 percent of single mothers had incomes below the poverty line in 2016. In some counties, more than half of single mothers experienced poverty.


Why do gaps persist? Both our country and our state have made progress in closing wage gaps over time, in part because we have taken significant steps to address the explicit and pervasive forms of workplace discrimination women once faced and because women today have more education and workplace experience relative to generations past. However, there are still significant hurdles to overcome. Men and women make choices about their careers, investments, and families in the context of different social expectations and constraints. Socialization that instills gender biases and limiting beliefs contributes to ongoing occupational and industry segregation, discrimination, and unequal divisions of labor within families. And with unequal access to workplace supports for caregiving and low wage floors, choices and opportunities to achieve financial well-being are limited in ways that not only put women at a disadvantage, but also harm Hoosier children and depress our economic progress.


Policy solutions. State policymakers can take a number of steps to address wage, wealth, and poverty gaps, including, but not limited to:

Giving women the tools to address pay disparities through a stronger equal pay law and collective bargaining


Ensuring that women and men know all their career pathway options, examine limiting beliefs based on gender, and make informed decisions through equity-focused professional development for K-12 teachers and improved career counseling.


Facilitating work-life balance and supports for both men and women to engage in caregiving through paid family leave, childcare supports, paid sick and safe time, fair scheduling, and accommodations during pregnancy and nursing.


Assuring access to family-sustaining wages by raising the minimum wage, removing barriers to postsecondary education, and increasing tax credits that support low-wage earners.