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Women Can’t Wait Another 50 Years for Equal Pay


By Roberta Downing, PhD (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Directorate – Government Relations Office)

Have you ever wondered if you’re being discriminated against in your pay? Would you even know if you were? This week marks Equal Pay Day, which highlights how far into the next year that a woman would have to work to earn the same amount as a man for equal work in the previous year.

We know that women still earn only 77 cents to every dollar that men earn. For women of color, the pay gap is more striking. African-American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas are paid 54 cents to every dollar paid to white men. New research shows that women earn less than men even in traditionally women-dominated jobs like social work, housekeeping, teaching, and nursing. The gender wage gap in academic institutions also persists.[i] Yet, women do not pay less than men for a college education or for items purchased in stores, nor do they get a discount on the amount they need to save for retirement.

In a recent survey, roughly half of workers reported that sharing salary information with their coworkers is either “discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment.” This kind of pay secrecy contributes to wage inequality, as workers have no idea if their counterparts are earning more or less than they are for the same job.

This week, the President and the U.S. Senate are addressing these issues. The Senate is taking up the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199/H.R. 377), which would:

  1. Protect employees from retaliation from their employers for disclosing, discussing, or making inquiries about employee wages.

  2. Direct the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect data to help federal agencies better identify discrepancies and enforce wage discrimination laws.

  3. Allow women to access back pay when they find they are being discriminated against and to seek punitive damages.

  4. Create a negotiations skills training program for women and girls.

Also, the President signed two Executive actions this week to address this issue. One bans retaliation against employees of federal contractors for disclosing or inquiring about their salary information. The other requires the Secretary of Labor to collect salary data from all federal contractors according to gender and race/ethnicity. The Department of Labor will use the data to identify pay inequality and enforce equal pay laws.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a decades-long history of highlighting the gender wage gap. Each year, APA’s Stress in America survey finds that money and work are the two most common stressors mentioned by adults. APA’s yearly Work and Well-Being Survey also identifies low salaries as the #1 factor impacting employees’ stress level at work. If money and low salaries are primary stressors in workers’ lives, think of how pay discrimination plays a role in the well-being of workers.

President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 when women were earning 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. It has taken 50 years to close the gender wage gap by only 18 cents per dollar. Will it take another fifty years or longer to close the gap completely? Let’s hope not!

[i]Barbezat, D.A. & Hughes, J.W. (2006). Salary Structure Effects and the Gender Pay Gap in Academia. Research in Higher Education, 46, pp 621-640.

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