Equal pay for equal work

The fight to close the gender wage gap endures.

Bronwyn Miller

Tuesday marked an important holiday, but rather than emphasizing a cause to “celebrate,” it was a day of critical recognition for the gender inequality that persists in our country. It was National Equal Pay Day.

The date was significant because it marked how long it took a woman to attain the salary of a man last year. With the wage gap between genders, it takes women more than three extra months of work to garner what men earned by Dec. 31, 2012. The selection of the date is based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor, which reveal that women working full time year-round are still paid only 80 cents for every dollar men are paid. The compounding of a race-based wage gap leaves African-American and Latina women earning just 64 and 55 cents respectively for every dollar a white man is paid.

Critics argue that women make less money as a byproduct of the “choices” they make, like working less hours, choosing lower-paying fields and taking more time out of the paid labor force to care for children or elderly relatives. In some cases, part of the wage gap can indeed be accounted for by these types of reasons, but years of research show that’s not the whole story.

According to a study by the American Association of University Women, the average woman working full time one year out of college is paid just 82 percent of what her male counterpart makes. Even when comparing men and women who had the same major at the same university and now work in the same occupation and sector for the same number of hours each week, the woman made 7 percent less than the man.

The overall picture is even worse. A 2007 Stanford University report revealed that 41 percent of the gender wage gap is unexplained by any measurable factor. Despite taking gender differences in education, experience, industries, occupations and union status into account, the inequalities persist. The researchers noted that even the practice of considering these as controls “may be questionable to the extent that they may be influenced by discrimination.” 

The potential wage-gap explanations we are left with are dismal: blatant sexism, unintentional discrimination or cultural norms resulting in reluctance among women to negotiate for higher pay. The fact that the wage gap is even more pronounced for women of color points to further ills plaguing our society and contributing to deep inequalities.

Even with these overt disparities, many argue that we are no longer in need of efforts focused on women’s rights. I think columnist Zach Nold of the Daily Nebraskan said it best in a Feb. 22 article: “Feminism has met its goals and women are now equal with men as they should be. … Feminism has achieved what it was set out to do.”

This is the same fine fellow who dedicated a column to decreeing that “unfortunate ladies who haven’t been blessed with beautiful legs” should stop wearing leggings, but Nold is by no means the only one telling feminists to slow our roll because we’re beating a dead horse. Such ignorance is widespread, touted by laypeople and prominent figures alike. Even Margaret Thatcher, a strong leader being celebrated this week after her death, concurred with Nold’s opinion more than 30 years ago, declaring, “The battle for women’s rights has been largely won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever.”

Observances like Equal Pay Day, dedicated to bringing attention to disparities in society, remind us of the ludicrous  assertions that feminism has already “won.” Aside from encouraging our leaders to pass laws to address inequity, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, we must support and appreciate the continued efforts of all those who fight for gender equality.