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The gender wage gap, explained in one chart

Want to understand why the workplace remains an especially unequal place for women? This chart is a great place to start.

It comes from a paper by Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who is a leading researcher on the gender wage gap (though she usually doesn’t express her work in cartoon format — that’s my own addition).

It shows that the gender wage gap starts off relatively small, with men and women earning similar salaries in their 20s. But pay equity falls rapidly through a woman's 30s and 40s.

This is really important to understanding why the wage gap exists in the first place. It shows that something crucial happens at that particular time in a woman’s career.

The cartoon I added in there is a pretty blunt clue: Women’s salaries begin to suffer when they start having children and raising a family.

One 2015 study found that childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns. Another paper, which studies thousands of business school graduates, found that women with kids had a wage gap twice as large as women without.

When you start digging into research on childrearing in America, it becomes more clear how this happens. One Pew study finds that, in households where both parents work full time, women still take care of a disproportionate share of childrearing tasks. For example: 54 percent of working moms said they do more to take care of their kids when they’re sick, compared to 6 percent of working dads.

The story of the gender wage gap in America doesn’t seem to be one of companies posting signs that say "we don’t hire women" or calculating out a salary for women that is 79 percent of what a man at the same company earns.

It’s much more complex, but it’s also not impossible to fix. Understanding the wage gap better, though, is the first step to figuring out which solutions will work best. You can read more here in this illustrated gender wage gap explainer.