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Social Issues
Kaitlin Pollack

While pay discrimination is illegal in the US, there are ongoing debates about whether a “wage gap” exists between men and women. The “wage gap,” or pay discrimination, is when individuals are paid unevenly for the same or similar labor based on their race, gender, disability, or age.  It is difficult to determine what exactly causes the wage gap, or if it even exists. However, oftentimes women feel subject to inequality when it comes to their salary. In fact, in 2020, women were paid 84% of what men earned, according to a study of the median hourly wages of both part and full-time workers. But this pay gap goes even further and is prevalent in medical occupations as well. A study of more than 80,000 physicians found female doctors earn less than their male counterparts from the moment they start working. According to research, over the length of a 40-year career, this wage discrepancy amounts to at least $2 million. 

There is a long history of women fighting for equal pay in the US. Most women in the United States did not work outside the home in the early twentieth century, and those who did were mostly young and unmarried. Despite widespread prejudice against women, particularly married women, working outside the home and the fewer opportunities available to them, women began to join the workforce in greater numbers during this time period. These years coincided with the so-called "first wave" of the women's movement, in which women banded together to demand change on a range of social concerns, including suffrage and temperance, as a result of the adoption of the 19th Amendment. However, most women were still expected to have short careers at the time, and women were still mainly considered as secondary earners who supported their husbands' careers. Women represented nearly a quarter of the American workforce at this time, yet they were generally paid significantly less than males, even when they did the same job. There were many proposed legislations to help grant equal pay to women; however, most of them failed until the Kennedy administration stepped in during the ‘60s. Many people were supportive of this movement, including Esther Peterson, head of the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, and former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Although there was much opposition, in 1963 Congress successfully passed the Equal Pay Act, which granted equal wages between men and women in the workplace. 

Since then, women have gone far in the US, but even recently there have still been wage disputes. The United States Women’s Soccer Team advocated for their desire for equal pay in 2019 by filing a lawsuit against the country’s soccer federation over alleged pay discrimination and poor working conditions. The 28 players, which include world-famous athletes like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd, claimed to have been subjected to gender discrimination. The mistreatment affected where and how often they play, how they practice, the medical care and coaching they receive, how they traveled to matches, and most importantly the salary they received. According to the lawsuit, these players were paid significantly less than the men's team, sometimes earning as little as 38% of the salary per game. They argued that they played more games, generated more profit and revenue, and had larger audiences than the men’s team, yet were still being paid less. The women’s team did not win their case, but they are trying to appeal. If an appeal is granted, then the team would be permitted to move forward with their case. 

While a final decision has yet to be made about this specific suit, there have still been various other pay discrimination lawsuits. In 2015, Bayer Corporation paid an unspecified amount to resolve a $100 million sex discrimination complaint. Dollar General paid $19 million in 2011 to settle charges that the company underpaid female store managers compared to men in the same position. Farmers Insurance agreed to pay $4.1 million to female attorneys who were reportedly paid less than their male colleagues in 2016. And lastly, in 2016, Merck & Co. reached a $250 million settlement with its female sales staff in a gender prejudice complaint. Additionally, high-profile companies like Nike, Disney, Oracle, and Google, have been involved in class action lawsuits regarding wages. 

Fortunately, in more recent years the gender gap has significantly decreased. According to the Pew Research Center, “In 1980, women ages 25 to 34 earned 33 cents less than their male counterparts, compared with 7 cents in 2020. The estimated 16-cent gender pay gap among all workers in 2020 was down from 36 cents in 1980.” The US has been moving in the right direction for equality for some time now, including passing legislation that prevents discrimination in the workplace. However, there have still been many cases where wage disputes have come up. Companies and employers are encouraged to carefully evaluate their pay practices and make adjustments when disparities appear. Additionally, managers should be educated on how to spot unconscious bias in recruiting, promotion, and compensation choices within the workplace. 

The wage gap is such a controversial topic because it’s so hard to prove. Many factors can lead to alleged pay discrimination that must be taken into account; some people argue that there just simply aren’t as many working women. Therefore, it’s crucial that women speak out on any issues within the workplace, and take responsible legal action if necessary. Currently, statistics support the fact that women earn less than men, but this doesn’t need to be the case. Encouraging and incentivizing equal opportunities in the workplace is an effective way to support working females. With the progress our society has made in the realm of female achievement, it is crucial that we continue on this path so as not to undermine those who fought for us previously.  Hopefully, in the years to come, pay disputes will be eradicated.

Works Cited

  1. Das, Andrew. “U.S. Women's Soccer Team Sues U.S. Soccer for Gender Discrimination (Published 2019).” The New York Times, 8 March 2019, Accessed 3 January 2022.

  2. Graf, Nikki. “Gender pay gap in US held steady in 2020.” Pew Research Center, 25 May 2021, Accessed 3 January 2022.

  3. Lilienfeld, Doreen, and Matthew Behrens. “Closing the Gender Pay Gap.” The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, 28 March 2020, Accessed 3 January 2022.

  4. Mertens, Maggie. “Why the US National Women's Soccer Team Is Suing.” The Atlantic, 19 March 2019, Accessed 4 January 2022.

  5. “The Simple Truth about the Pay Gap.” AAUW, 2021, Accessed 3 January 2022.

  6. “The Wage Gap | Gender Differences and Discrimination In the Workplace.” Sites at Penn State, 23 January 2017, Accessed 3 January 2022.

  7. Yellen, Janet L. “The history of women's work and wages and how it has created success for us all.” Brookings Institution, 2020, Accessed 7 January 2022.

  8. Kennedy, President, et al. “Equal Pay Act - HISTORY.”, 30 November 2017, Accessed 7 January 2022.

Women Fight for Equal Salaries: Academics
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