Unionized Women Earn More than Nonunionized Women in Every U.S. State

In 32 states, the union wage advantage is large enough to cover the costs of full-time child care for an infant in a center


August 26, 2015

Contact: Jennifer Clark | 202-785-5100 | clark@iwpr.org

Washington, DC—A new briefing paper released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that women represented by a union in the United States earn an average of $212 more per week than women in nonunion jobs. In addition, union women earn more in every state, with the size of the union wage advantage varying across states: union women in Wyoming earn $349 per week more than their nonunion counterparts in the state, while union women in the District of Columbia earn $48 more per week than D.C.’s nonunion women. The analysis also finds that the size of the union wage advantage is large enough in 32 states to cover the costs of full-time child care for an infant in a center.

Women’s share of union members has increased markedly in the last three decades, from 33.6 percent in 1984 to 45.5 percent in 2014. While men are more likely than women to be in labor unions or covered by a union contract in the United States as a whole (13.1 percent of men, compared with 11.9 percent of women), there are eight jurisdictions—California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Vermont—where women are more likely to be unionized than men. More than one in four female workers (25.7 percent) in New York are in a labor union or covered by a union contract. Nationally, public sector workers are five times more likely to belong to a union than private sector workers (35.7 percent, compared with 6.6 percent).

There are 25 “Right to Work” states, in which labor unions may operate but they cannot require employees, even those who would benefit from a contract negotiated by a union, to become members of the union or pay membership dues. Generally, the share of women who are union members or covered by a union contract are higher in states that do not have “Right to Work” laws. “Right to Work” states are associated with lower wages for all workers (both union and nonunion), especially women.

“Union representation brings with it greater pay transparency and helps ensure that employers set pay based on objective criteria, such as skill, effort, and responsibility,” said IWPR Study Director Ariane Hegewisch, co-author of the briefing paper. “Unfortunately, many women around the country are not able to experience this union advantage.”

Women who are represented by labor unions earn 88.7 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, a considerably higher earnings ratio than the earnings ratio between all women and men in the United States (78.3 percent). Women of all major racial and ethnic groups experience a union wage advantage, but black and Hispanic women are particularly likely to gain from union representation. Hispanic women represented by labor unions have median weekly earnings that are 42.1 percent higher than those without union representation and black women’s earnings are 33.6 percent higher.

The union advantage extends beyond pay to cover benefits, such as retirement plans and health insurance. Women represented by a union are more likely to participate in a pension plan and receive health insurance benefits through their job than those who are not unionized. Approximately three in four unionized women (74.1 percent) have a pension plan, compared with only slightly more than four in ten (42.3 percent) of nonunion women. As of 2013, more than three in four unionized women (76.6 percent) had employer- or union-provided health insurance coverage, compared with only half (51.4 percent) of nonunion women.

“This research shows that it pays to be in a union, especially if you are a woman” said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “Not only do union women experience a much narrower gender wage gap with men than women overall, they also earn hundreds of dollars more per week than nonunion women, with greater access to critical benefits that can ensure their longterm financial security and well-being.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies.