Equal Pay for Women: A Simple Matter of Fairness

By Lauren Eiten, NOW Field Intern

As a young woman who is still in school, I have not fully entered the workforce yet. This means I have not experienced the wage gap firsthand, and it is not something I look forward to. Twenty years of my life were spent learning about the golden rule, fairness and equality, but research on Equal Pay Day reveals that what I’ve learned doesn’t always apply.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data for full-time, year-round workers, women are paid on average only 77 percent of what men are paid; for women of color, the gap is significantly wider. These wage gaps stubbornly remain despite passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, back when women only earned 59 cents to a man’s dollar.

Equal Pay Day was first recognized in 1996. At that time data showed women earning 72 cents for every dollar paid to men. Since then, the wage gap has only improved by five cents — in fact, we’ve been stuck between 70 and 80 cents for more than two decades!

The wage gap is even seen in occupations that are mainly dominated by women. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report in 2010 showing that out of 111 occupations there were only four where women’s weekly median earnings were higher than males, the top occupation being preparing and serving food, including fast food. Full-time workers in this field are paid on average $369 a week, which is barely enough to keep a family of three above the poverty line. On the other hand, the occupation with the biggest gap in men’s favor is “personal financial advisor,” which pays $1,381 a week on average.

When feminists talk about the wage gap, often the immediate response is that it is due to lifestyle choices made by women, not discrimination. Based on available research, I find that hard to believe. The American Association of University Women determined in a study that one year after graduating college — a time when women and men should, absent discrimination, be on a level playing field — women are paid on average only 80 percent of their male counterparts’ wages.

It is time to practice what we preach. One of the first things we learn in school is to treat others like we would want to be treated ourselves, yet it seems to be the hardest principle to follow. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be paid less than someone performing their same job, so why is it acceptable to pay women less? Enough is enough. Let’s end pay discrimination and eliminate the need to mark Equal Pay Day each year.

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