Over her lifetime, the average American woman can expect to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a man with similar credentials and employment. For women of color, that pay gap looks more like a chasm. And while motherhood is often cited as the primary reason for lower earnings over the course of a career, it doesn't explain why, as occupational segregation falls, women still only make $0.79 for every dollar men do.
The same financial pressures men face only increase when a Y-chromosome is taken out of the equation. So, as we did with men, we asked four women with four different incomes about the lives they can afford.
$1,000,000 Per Year - Heidi Burkhart, 34
Occupation: Real-estate brokerage for affordable housing
Family status: In a relationship, but we're not living together.
Monthly rent: $6,500
Do you keep a budget? I didn't used to at all. That's changing.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? About $200. If I'm entertaining clients, it could be more than $1,000.
One thing you need but can't afford: There's nothing. If I really need it, I'll work for it.
One thing you want but can't afford: More travel. But that's more about a balanced work life. A private jet would be nice.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: I've worked to a point where that doesn't really apply anymore.
Do you have credit cards? I do: Two for personal use, two for business.
How much debt are you carrying now? Mortgages on investment properties.
Saving for retirement? Yes, definitely. Starting when I was 24. I've put away seven figures in savings.
Felt the effects of the wage gap? I hate these sorts of questions because I feel it perpetuates the issue. I don't like putting blame on any one but myself. As an entrepreneur, I have always hustled hard to prove myself. I have made more than people older and younger than me, man or woman. I have also made much less. All that has ever mattered to me is that I uphold my own values, morals, integrity, and happiness.
At what age would you like to retire? I'll be working forever. At least in some capacity.
How much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? My goal is a net worth of $50 million.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? I choose happiness. Most days are a ten.
How often do you worry about money? I don't think about it, really. When deals get delayed, and I'm maxing out on credit...it happens. If I'm productive, not just busy, I worry less. I was broke long ago and it was hard to believe I was ever going to get out of it.
Do you think your taxes are too high? I'm indifferent.
$350,000 Per Year - Megan R. Williams, 37
Location: San Antonio
Occupation: Family-medicine physician and real-estate investor
Family status: I've been with my husband for 14 years and we have three children–ages 4, 3, and 11 months.
Homeowner? Renter? I started investing in real estate during medical school. That's the last time I rented. We own now. Mortgage is $379,000.
Do you keep a budget? I'm not the best. I'm primarily in charge of finances, and the concept I usually use is one of artificial scarcity. We spend what's left over at the end of the month, but I always make sure that there's not a lot left.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? It's kind of embarrassing: about $225 on groceries and another $300 on restaurants.
One thing you need but can't afford: I honestly don't think think there's anything.
One thing you want but can't afford: Probably just more time with my family. More of a relaxed lifestyle. For the time being, I can't afford not to work a lot.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: My car was 13 years old and my nephew was planning on moving out on his own. So I had a plan to save to buy a new car so I could give him the old one. We paid off the new one in about four months, though.
Do you have credit cards? We have one credit card. It's only used for the kids' daycare. We try as much as possible to live a life without debt.
How much debt are you carrying now? A mortgage on the main house and two investment properties with mortgages. I've paid off my student loans and two other investment properties.
Saving for retirement? Oh, yeah. Of course.
At what age would you like to retire? I'm not sure that I'll ever retire. I don't see myself not working.
Felt the effects of the wage gap? As the female in the family, I'm typically more involved in the care of the kids. When they get sick at school, I go to get them. When they have a day off, I stay home with them. Not because I have to or because my husband doesn't want to, but because I want to. I started working part time in my main job when my baby was 5 months old. I know I make less than male coworkers in the same field—I am less able to fully dedicate myself to my job like my male coworkers. But it's OK. I try to make up for the differences by making sure that financially my family is judicious in our spending, more diversified, and not dependent on just earned income.
College plans for the kids? We started saving the day each one of them was born. My husband projected the cost of Duke University–where I went–when the kids are 18, so the contributions increase year over year, with the hope that the costs will be covered completely.
How much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? We hit $1,000,000 net worth a couple months ago. Subjectively, I'm thinking when we hit the $5,000,000 mark, that will probably be a good point where we can say we could just live off of interest of income from the properties. If we were making $200,000 off of passive income, then we wouldn't have to work.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? Probably an eight. Regardless of what happens, I walk through the door at the end of the day and I see my kids. We had to work so hard to have them–my son is adopted, we had IVF, and then we got pregnant out of the blue with the baby. Because of them, on any given day, the worst-case scenario is an eight.
How often do you worry about money? Not so much now. During medical school and residency I didn't have a lot of money, so not having to worry about it is very important to me. Up until the point of getting to the net-worth milestone, I hated worrying. I worry less than I do, but it used to be a constant nagging.
Do you think your taxes are too high? No. I don't think so. The way I see it, you drive down a road, that's what your taxes pay for. There's someone who can't take care of themselves, that's what your taxes go toward. It's not unreasonable.
$80,000 per year - Jill Shankman, 38
Location: Hudson Valley, New York
Occupation: Public elementary-school teacher
Family status: Married with two children, 9 and 2 years old. My husband is a stay-at-home dad.
Homeowner? Renter? Bought our home in 2004. Monthly payment is $1,800.
Do you keep a budget? I do the finances and we just communicate. We spend what's leftover. My husband does most of the purchasing.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? $175 each week.
One thing you need but can't afford: I need a tune up on my car, but that will have to wait until the summer.
One thing you want but can't afford: I'd love to have a swimming pool.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: My daughter's Shakespeare camp. It's $670 for two weeks, but she loves it. We had to wait for our tax return to send her.
Do you have credit cards? We use a debit card for every-day things. I only use a credit card for big purchases. I tell my husband that I'd really rather wait until I get paid again, unless it's something like an unexpected dentist visit, or someone breaks their glasses.
How much debt are you carrying now? We definitely have credit-card debt. About $20,000. We've had it for years and it's very tough to pay down. My husband and I both have student loans totaling about $25,000.
Saving for retirement? As a public-school teacher, I have a pension. I'm banking on that. My husband has a very small 401K.
At what age would you like to retire? I can retire at 55, but I'll work til I'm 56, when I've been teaching for 30 years. I had my second daughter so late in life. She'll be in college then, so I might have to work a few more years.
College plans for the kids? I got a psychology degree, which my father still calls a "basket-weaving degree." I went back to school for my masters—I'll be paying off that loan until I'm 47. So, I'm seeing the cost of college. My older daughter is very bright and she wants to be a lawyer, and I encourage it. If they don't know what they want to do, I'm not going to push it. My parents just told me, "You're going." I have no problem having my kids wait to find out what they want to do. There are a lot of professions that don't require a college degree.
Felt the effects of the wage gap? It's pretty standardized as a teacher. But I felt it before when I was a 22-year-old administrative assistant. I was called "honey" and "sweetie." That made me go back to school. I couldn't stand it.
How much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? Hopefully about $100,000.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? I would say nine. There are good days and bad days. But overall I feel like I'm doing something meaningful and that makes a difference. I love my husband and I have the children I always wanted. I get to write on the side and I'm excited about a book idea. I don't feel like I'm jealous of anybody. Even living paycheck to paycheck, you can still be happy.
Do you worry about money? I do, but I think I worry more about my health.
Do you think your taxes are too high? Not really on income. New York is known for it's high real-estate taxes, but we found a town where the taxes were lower but the schools were still good.
Just Above The Poverty Line (Or: $650 per week) - Monica Pilar, 38
Location: Novato, California
Occupation: In-home caregiver and licensed esthetician
Family status: It's complicated. Divorced four year ago. I have two sons who are 6 and 4, both have been diagnosed with autism. Every year we have to go to court because [my ex-husband] requests more visitation. I have full custody. I need the help because I don't have any family here. It's just me. When I walked away from that house, I had to leave everything behind—all the friends, money. I just took myself and my two boys. My youngest son was only 2 weeks old. I did what I had to do for them.
Homeowner? Renter? I'm part of a program called Gilead House. It's a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing for single mothers like me, and it's been a blessing. I got there two years ago and I was able to go to school and get my GED and put the boys in a good program. I'm in an apartment for $400 per month. But it's temporary and I don't know for sure what I'll do in June when I have to move.
Do you keep a budget? I spend $40 on cable because the boys love Sesame Street. I still qualify for medical and the father of my kids is paying for the boys' primary insurance, so I don't have to spend a lot of money at the doctor. I spend so much money on laundry though. I just refinanced my car so the payment is about $360.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? My boys are on a very specific diet that is gluten free and organic. I cook and make their lunch boxes every day. It is almost $250 every week. Sometimes I get free food from the boys' school, too. I don't ever go out to eat.
One thing your family needs but can't afford: I think we are doing OK. We always have enough food. But the support of the organizations in this county like United Way and Community Action Marin and Novato Human Needs: that is how I am able to get by.
One thing you want but can't afford: I would like to get the boys those bicycles with the training wheels on the back. I'm going to save for those.
Felt the effects of the wage gap? Yes, definitely! And also that women don't get maternity leave. Especially in a country like this. I was in shock when I found that out.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: Christmas gifts. And I am trying to bring my mother here from Colombia. She's 65 and it is difficult, but I would like to train her to take care of the boys so I can go back to work.
Do you have credit cards? I have one, but it is prepaid. I use it to improve my credit score. I survive with the money I have. Before, my ex-husband had everything in his name and he took away my passport and my social security card, and he used my credit cards without me knowing.
Saving for retirement? I hadn't ever thought about retiring.
What do you think about your sons' futures? My oldest son, he's not high-functioning. He's still non-verbal. He has a regression type of autism, and I can't really change routines. Every time I move to a new place, he can't see any boxes. He had a big regression two years ago when we moved and lost all his speech even after all we've been doing. My goal is to make sure that the boys are independent and that they can pursue their dreams. But also, I am preparing to live with my oldest son forever if I have to. I want him to be independent because I want him to be happy. That's why I'm working really hard to get this house for us, so that when I am no longer on this planet he will have a place that is for him. My 4-year-old is more functional. He started talking finally.
How much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? I'm a hard worker. Probably $7,000 a month if I do really well in what I want to do.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? I'm an eight. When I wake up the morning with my boys, I'm ten. We have a very stable life, even with everything going on. We're safe. The boys are in the right programs. I was able to go to school. I will figure out a way to bring my mom, and to work more hours. I am a pretty positive person and that helps a lot.
How often do you worry about money? Not all the time.
Do you think your taxes are too high? For people in general, yes, I think they're high.
All interviews have been edited and condensed.
Additional reporting by David Walters.
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