American Suffragist Susan B. Anthony said, "Men,
their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and
nothing less." She was right.
Unfortunately, 37 years after President John F. Kennedy
signed the Equal Pay Act, woman still is paid less than
man. Sorry Susan—looks like we have not "come a
long, long way!" President Kennedy signed the Equal
Pay Act in 1963, hoping it would end wage discrimination
based on sex. At that time, women made 59 cents for every
dollar earned by men. And, the wage gap has been closing—but
at less than half a penny per year.
Since 1960, and in 1998 dollars, the great divide
between women's and men's earnings has only closed by
$1,203. (Data from the Census Bureau March Current
Population Survey.) About 60 percent of the improvement in
the wage gap from 1979 to 1997 can be attributed to the
decline in men's real earnings. Approximately 40
percent of the closing of the gap is a result of women's
better earning power.
In 1998, women earned only 73 percent of the wages
earned by men. Not much different than in 1996—except
that the problem grows larger as more women and people of
color enter the job market. By the year 2006, it is
estimated that women and people of color will account for
two-thirds of all new entrants into the workforce. Nearly
69 million women had jobs in 1998, making up 47 percent of
workers 15 years and older.
Women of color experience the most severe pay inequities.
Hispanic women earned only 53 cents, African-American
women earned only 63 cents, and white women 73 cents for
each dollar earned by a white man who faces no sex or
race-based wage discrimination. Men of color also
experience significant wage inequities. Hispanic men
earned only 62 percent, and African-American men earned
only 75 percent of the wages of white men.
Contrary to data from the Employment Policy Foundation,
The National Academy of Sciences reports that between
one-third and one-half of the wage difference between men
and women cannot be explained by differences in
experience, education, or other legitimate qualifications.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for
1998, women earned more than men in only two of nearly 100
detailed occupational categories: food preparation and
legal assistants. In all other categories, women still lag
behind the guys. For example, women dry cleaning machine
operators made 10 percent less than men operators; women
accountants made 25 percent less, women in administrative
support made 19 percent less, and women educators and
reporters made 24 percent less.
Women in unions do a bit better, earning
$166 more per week on the average than those women who
were not union members. Union women also earned weekly
wages that were slightly more than men who were not union
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But don’t let those figures fool you.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research,
although working mothers who are union members earn $1.25
an hour more than nonunion working mothers—the same
women gain only about 30 cents per hour for five
additional years of work experience, compared to their
white men counterparts who gain $1.20 for the same number
of years work experience.
Even women who have reached the highest
levels of corporate America are not immune to wage
discrimination. In November 1999, a Catalyst survey of
Fortune 500 top earners showed that women take home 68
cents for every dollar earned by a man.
The lifetime cost to women can be
devastating. According to the Institute for Women's Policy
Research, a 25 year-old woman who works full-time
year-round for the next 40 years will earn $523,000 less
than the average 25 year-old man will, if the current wage
patterns continue. Worse, the gap widens as women mature.
Among workers 16-24, the wage gap is only 91 percent; yet
by age 55-64, women are earning only 68 percent of men's
earnings. Lower lifetime earnings translate into lower
pensions and income for women in their senior years and
contributes to a higher poverty rate for elderly
Are women’s choices to blame?
While some may argue that the wage gap is
a result of women's choices — mainly women taking time
out of the workforce to have children — there is
much more to the story than "choice." There is
no doubt that time, education and experience play a role
in pay rates—but only when you compare men to men! When
women enter the picture — it changes drastically.
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Here are just a few of the facts from the National
Committee on Pay Equity:
- A survey of public relations
professionals shows that women with less than 5 years of
experience make $29,726 while men with the same amount of
experience make $48,162. For PR professionals in the 5-10
year category, women earn $41,141 while men earn $47,888.
In the 10-15 year category, women earn $44,941 and men
earn $54,457. In the 15-20 year range, women earn $49,270
and men earn $69,120.
- Women in the field of purchasing with 3
or fewer year’s experience earn $35,900 and men earn
$47,700. For purchasers with 4-6 years experience, men
earn $52,100 while women earn $38,300. Women purchasers
who have 7 -10 years of experience earn $42,300 while
their men counterparts earn $56,400. For those with 11- 15
years experience, women earn $43,500 and men earn $63,400.
- Among video programmers, women with
advanced degrees earn 64.6 percent of the earnings of
their men counterparts, and women with college degrees
earn 80 percent on the dollar earned by men.
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Wage discrimination is much more than a so-called
In today’s society, with the earnings of
"wives" and "mothers" so essential to
family support, pay equity is a "bread and
butter" issue, according to a national study reported
by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women’s Policy
Research. In analyzing data from the Census Bureau and the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, they jointly reported that
"working families" pay a steep price for unequal
Almost two thirds of the 50,000-working
women who responded to the 1997 AFL-CIO survey said they
provide one half or more of their families’ incomes.
More than 25 percent report they are heads of households
with dependent children.
Still need convincing that pay equity is critical to
this country’s economic health?
It is estimated that America’s working
families lose $200 billion of income annually to the wage
gap—an average loss of more than $4,000 for each working
family every year. Although some states fare better than
others, a reduced wage gap does not necessarily coordinate
with improved economic status for women and their
families. For example, women earn the most in comparison
to men in our Nation’s capitol—Washington, DC. But the
primary reason is that the wages of minority men is so
This is bleak news when considering that
working women represent the bridge out of poverty for many
married couples and working families. A 1997 labor
department analysis found that 7.7 percent fewer white
families, 11.4 percent few African-American families, and
between 9 percent and 25 percent fewer Hispanic families
are poor because both husbands and wives are
- If married women were paid the same as
comparable men, their family incomes would rise by nearly
six percent, and their families’ poverty rates would
fall from 2.1 percent to 12.6 percent.
- If single women earned as much as
comparable men, their incomes would rise by 13.4 percent,
and their poverty rates would be reduced from 6.3 percent
to one percent.
Bottom line is that if single working
mothers achieved pay equity, their poverty rates would be
cut in half, according to the AFL-CIO Sorry fellas. This
is not a women’s issue—it is a national issue.
Simply put, pay discrimination based on
gender hurts all of us—as individuals, as families, and
as a nation. Because of pay discrimination, literally
hundreds of thousands of households will have less
groceries, make fewer doctors visits, and have less money
to put aside for retirement. Does pay equity mean setting
up a national wage-setting system? Of course not! But it
does mean that wages must be based on job requirements
like skill and responsibility— not skin color, religious
beliefs, age or gender. Will pay equity solve every
problem? Of course not! But when the day comes that wages
are truly equitable, people—individuals and their
families—will grow healthier, stronger and more
confident. And so will our businesses and our
The facts and figures presented in this
article were provided by Soroptimist International of the
Americas and compiled by the National Committee on Pay
Equity from the following sources: The U.S. Department of
Commerce, Census Bureau; The U. S. Department of
Labor; the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor
Statistics; and the Institute for Women's Policy
Marion Gold is the author of two books on
women in the workforce and writes frequently on women’s
advocacy issues. She was recently named the Year 2000
Communicator of Achievement by the Illinois Woman's Press
Soroptimist International of Chicago