Why Equal Pay Is Good — But Not Good Enough

April 12 is Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes how far into 2016 women must work to earn what men earned in the 12 months of 2015.

Each year, Equal Pay Day reminds us that pay inequity is pervasive, persistent, and real in the United States as well as around the world.

While progress has been made to narrow the gap since the 1970s (when women earned only 61 cents for every dollar earned by men), the gap has not significantly changed in the last 15 years, remaining somewhere between 76 and 79 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Consider these facts as well:


A woman suffers a 5% “wage penalty” for every child she has. Some of this is caused by a mother’s tendency to take time away from work or work fewer hours. (Frankly, this is something our society seems to expect only of mothers.) But studies also show that employers are more likely to hire childless women, and when they do hire a mother, they tend to offer a lower salary than they offer to other women, which contributes to the motherhood wage penalty. (By the way, studies indicate men tend to receive a “wage premium,” or more money, after becoming fathers.)


82percent[1]Within one year of graduating college, women are paid 82% of what comparable male graduates are paid. But that drops to 69% within 10 years of graduation. Some of this may again be due to choices, such as the choice of college major and the type of careers women pursue. But several studies have documented that the gender pay gap cannot be completely attributed to different choices made by men and women. As much as 12% of the difference is simply “unexplainable.”


Here’s a simple explanation: gender discrimination.

Despite advances in today’s society, women’s work continues to be valued less than men’s work.

How else can we explain the fact that the pay gap exists across all professions? Even in traditionally female-dominated jobs such as nursing, men earn more for performing the same work. Obviously we need to keep advocating for pay equity, and participating in Equal Pay Day activities is a great start.

But we also need to implement additional strategies to mitigate the “explainable” pay gap factors as much as possible. This is particularly important for the 40% of mothers with children under the age of 18 who are the sole or primary breadwinner for their family—mothers like those who receive a Live Your Dream Award. Live Your Dream Award honorees struggle with affordable child care, affordable health care, and many are in low-level jobs that pay minimum wage and do not offer paid family and medical leave. As a result, the gender pay gap hits them particularly hard. Surely we can do better for the mothers in our communities.

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