Salary gap between men and women still vast 44 years after passage of Equal Pay Act

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A new study commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows that the gap in pay between college-educated men and women starts soon after graduation and expands over time.

The director of the women's studies program at the University of North Texas, Dr. Sandra Spencer, says the report released by AAUW on the gender pay gap couldn't be more timely or disheartening.

Spencer points out that April 24, which fell this year on the day after the report was released, is national Equal Pay Day, "the day when women theoretically catch up with what their equally-employed counterparts made in the previous calendar year."

In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act to prohibit discrimination in compensation for "equal work" on the basis of sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in compensation because of race, color, religion, national origin, and/or sex. However, these statutes have been interpreted narrowly by the courts, and they also fail to address other components of the pay inequity problem, including job segregation.

"You would think 44 years after equal pay for equal work was legislated that we wouldn't need an Equal Pay Day or be reading a report on the Gender Pay Gap," Spencer says.

Specifically, the AAUW study shows one year after receiving a degree, women working full-time are paid 20 percent less than men. That gap grows to 30 percent less ten years after graduation. Spencer says as bad as the numbers are, what's even more deplorable is the fact that no one can account for this difference once issues of job choice and employment continuity have been addressed - except for discrimination.

Spencer thinks some proposed solutions, such as extending the Family and Medical Leave Act and encouraging women to go into male-dominated professions, is part of the answer. But she doubts either solution will fully address the issue fully.

"This discrimination appears to be more systemic in nature, and more pervasive than either of these solutions comes close to addressing."

She adds that teaching women how to negotiate for better positions and salaries is long overdue, and she hopes to see more program development in this area.

Spencer points out at the rate wage parity is being achieved, it will take about another 96 years for women to make the same pay men are for the same job.

"That means if you are old enough to read this report, your daughters won't realize it (equal pay) and neither will your granddaughters. Now, that's disheartening!" she says.

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