Women have been fighting for the right to equal pay in the workforce for decades. While developments have been slow, it’s obvious that time has been kind to the women who have fought to close the gap between the median wages received by men vs. women — but not kind enough.
The Evolution of Expectation
Back in the 1970s, the average median wage for a man was approximately $36,207 per year while a woman might earn $21,297 annually for the same work. This means the average woman doing the exact same job as a man in her field was earning 40% less salary – for the exact same job.
But why? Back in the 70s, women were expected to conform to a certain role. The majority still stayed home to cook, clean, and care for the children. They were married women looking to earn some extra money for household goods, activities for the children, or a few gifts. Employers knew that the average woman had a husband who was supporting the household and they treated women as though they were merely working to have something to do to fill the time. They thought this was a great excuse to justify a lower wage. Women, after all, were inferior. Right?
In the early 70s, the women’s lib movement was just barely getting started. As a matter of fact, most of the movements seemed to have hit a wall. According to Time, by 1972, the average median salary for a woman had actually fallen and there were fewer women in top offices (including civil service) than there had been just four years earlier.
Over time, of course, the expectations shifted. The feminist movement regained some of its lost energy and women slowly but surely began demanding respect and equality. Unfortunately, those demands were not always met with optimism and, as you can see, the rate of pay for women vs. men was slow to evolve, and is still moving at a snail’s pace.
That 40% gap in the 70s closed to a 38% gap in the 80s, and while any increase is important to note, the shift was so small it was hardly worth writing home about. In the 1990s and through the 2000s, women were earning about 77% of the salary men were earning, bringing the gap in wages to 33%.
One might hope that the women entering the workforce between 2010 and today would see less of a gap, but this is simply not so. Women today are still earning 33% less than men in the same role. This is more disturbing than it might have been in the 70s because women today have a greater access to equal levels of education. They’re simply not viewed fairly in the workplace.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act
In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, women were earning only 59% of the salary men were earning. While it is true that during that time men were considered the primary breadwinners in the household, the picture of the average American home has also evolved with the workplace. Men and women are, in many instances, equal when it comes to the amount of responsibility they have for taking care of household obligations. They’re just doing it on less.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was one of the first bills President Obama signed after taking office. The bill was designed in the hopes that it would help to close the pay gap between men and women but has actually done very little so far. One of the most important points in this act was the way it changed the statute of limitations for filing workplace discrimination cases as they relate to pay. In the past, employees could only file for discrimination after their first instance (or first paycheck). Now, they can file a complaint up to 180 days after each instance, or each paycheck. This generally gives women, or anyone being paid unfairly, the opportunity to consider filing a complaint as long as he or she is working.
Unfortunately, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act still isn’t enough to close the gender pay gap. Loopholes remain in the 1963 Equal Pay Act that could have been closed had Senate Republicans not filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010 and again in 2012. In January 2013, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Rosa DeLauro reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act. There is hope for equal pay again but still no guarantee that the bill will get through the Senate. In the meantime, women continue to lose the money they deserve for doing the same jobs as men.
What’s the Overall Impact on the Average Life?
Women who deserve to be paid equally are losing thousands of dollars each year. If a woman today is making 23% less than a man who is earning $47,715 annually, she’s losing more than $10,000 in a year. That $10,000 could have provided more than a year of rent payments, 1 year and 8 months of food, or almost three years of family health insurance.
There is some good news though. While the proverbial glass ceiling has prevented women from moving forward in male-dominated industries and corporations, it has also given women the opportunity to look towards entrepreneurship with a more critical eye. These same women who have been discriminated against in the corporate world are now starting their own businesses, are contributing towards stimulating the economy, and in many cases are creating jobs for others – in addition to paying themselves what they know they are worth.
We can continue to hope for, insist for, and work towards change, but that change will be determined by the way women perceive their roles in the world of business – as free thinkers, entrepreneurs, and spearheads for change.
The infographic below shows the history of the gender pay gap since the 1970s. Feel free to share this infographic (embed code is provided beneath the image) with your own audiences so more people understand how little the gender pay gap has changed in nearly 50 years.
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