“Unequal pay hurts women. It hurts their families. And it hurts us all.”
— Lilly Ledbetter, whose lawsuit against the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. led to the signing of the Fair Pay Act of 2009
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me, “The gender pay gap is a myth,” I may have made back the income I’ve lost over the years for being a woman.
It’s not a myth. And yet the nuance required to explain what perpetuates these misconceptions is not the stuff made for 280-character sound bites on social media, where sweeping dismissals (Men work longer hours! Men pick higher-paying careers!) can quickly snowball.
Today is Equal Pay Day — created in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition of women’s, civil rights and labor groups, to draw attention to the gender pay disparities in the United States. The day marks about how long into 2019 American women would have to work to earn what their male counterparts already earned last year. (Though race factors into this as well. More on that below.)
I asked Jessica Bennett, The Times’s gender editor and author of the book “Feminist Fight Club,” to demystify some commonly misunderstood aspects of the pay gap. Here’s what she said.
The pay gap doesn’t account for women’s job choice.
Bennett: While it’s true that women are more likely to work in lower-paying fields like education and health care, the pay gap also persists within those fields. As our colleague Claire Cain-Miller has written, female food preparers earn 87 percent of what male food preparers earn, according to data from Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist. (Female surgeons earn 71 percent of what male surgeons earn in the same specialties, Professor Goldin found.)
The gap persists because women take time off to have children.
Bennett: Women’s compensation does often suffer when they return to work after having children. But even in their first year out of college, childless women earn 93 percent of what their male peers do, even if they had a similar G.P.A. and were working in the same fields.
Women get paid less because they have less education.
Bennett: Actually, more women than men have earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees since the 1980s. And for the past 10 or so years, they have also earned more doctoral degrees.
Women don’t get paid well because they don’t negotiate well.
Bennett: That has long been a factor in the pay gap. But a 2018 study, published in the Harvard Business Review found that — perhaps as a result of all that talk about women not negotiating — women are asking for raises as often as men, though they are less likely to get them. Maybe in part because when women ask, they can be perceived as “demanding.” (Remember that essay that Jennifer Lawrence wrote, about not getting paid as much as her male co-stars? She said she “didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”)
O.K., but we’re on our way to closing the gap, right?
Bennett: If you consider the year 2059 soon, sure. That’s how long it will take in the United States, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, at the current pace of change.
By the numbers
Here are some more figures you might want to know:
That’s the median amount that American women who work full time, year-round in the United States are paid for every dollar their male counterparts earn, according to U.S. census data analyzed by the American Association of University Women. When broken down by race and compared with white men, the numbers are:
85 cents: The amount for Asian women
77 cents: The amount for white women
61 cents: The amount for black women
58 cents: The amount for Native American women
53 cents: The amount for Hispanic women
That’s how much the pay gap costs American women each year, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which based the figure on the difference between women’s and men’s median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers. Over the course of a 40-year career, that amounts to $403,440.
1 in 3
That’s the number of Americans who are unaware of the wage gap, according to research by LeanIn.org. Congrats! You’re no longer one of them.
What else is happening
Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.
CreditAndrea DiCenzo for The New York Times
“In Afghanistan, we laugh differently.” For a handful of teenage girls, robotics offered a reprieve from their violent, patriarchal country. Now they are back home, with the Taliban poised to gain power. [Read the story]
“Computing is too important to be left to men.” Goodbye, Women’s History Month. From an 80-year-old tiger trainer to a pioneer of computer science, here are 15 women we shouldn’t forget. [Read the story]
“You’re always waiting for the next iconic moment.” The first female photographers at The New York Times, a generation of talent brought in from 1973 to 1992, brought a fresh vision and changed the paper’s look. [Read the story]
“What happens when women stop leading like men.” From our Opinion pages: In leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Nancy Pelosi, we see a new paradigm of female leadership emerging. [Read the story]
“It’s possible leggings are the future. Deal with it.” Last week, leggings set off a firestorm at the University of Notre Dame. Vanessa Friedman, our chief fashion critic, looks at why this item of clothing gets people so riled up. [Read the story]
From the archives, 2009: ‘I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.’
A decade ago, in January 2009, President Barack Obama signed his first bill into law: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was named after an Alabama woman who at the end of a 19-year career at Goodyear discovered she had been paid less than her male peers. She sued and the case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Goodyear — stating that Ms. Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the first unequal paycheck she received.
The Fair Pay Act corrected that time limit so that each discriminatory paycheck, rather than just the first one, resets the 180-day limit to file a claim.
“I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” Ledbetter had said after the bill passed the Senate. And after Obama signed it, she said: “Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of. In fact, I will never see a cent. But with the president’s signature today I have an even richer reward.”
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