Women Still Make Less Than Men For Same Work

Despite a host of local and state laws meant to create gender parity in the workplace, women of all education levels continue to be paid less than men for the same work. Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for American Progress, talks about why the gender gap persists.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

There are a lot of city and state governments that are trying to take on pay disparities at the local level like Boston. But despite these new laws, Heather Boushey from the Center for American Progress says that pay gap persists.

HEATHER BOUSHEY: Interestingly, we find that that is about the same across the educational distribution. So even if you get a college degree, you earn more than a guy with some college or a high school degree, but you don't actually, on average, earn more than a male with a college degree. One thing we know is that there's a big gap between women who are mothers and women who aren't. And that gap actually can't be accounted for simply by the presence of children.

So if a woman who doesn't have kids takes off six months for touring Europe and then a woman who does have children takes off six months to care for her new baby, you see that it's not that time that's causing that pay gap. It's actually the presence of having a child that is causing that gap. And we don't do a lot in this country to really help equalize that.

RATH: There's still, though, a lot of opposition to laws like this. For instance, you know, the Fair Pay Act, every year for almost two decades now, Congress has opted to not pass that. Could you explain what that law is and why it faced this kind of opposition?

BOUSHEY: The Fair Pay Act is a piece of legislation that has been introduced by Senator Harkin. It would actually require that firms do more to ensure that workers that are doing the same kinds of jobs are actually being paid similarly. One of the insidious ways that you see the pay gap playing out in our economy is that you have workers that have similar kinds of skills that are required for their job and they're doing similar kinds of tasks.

But because we call them by different names and one is a job that tends to be held by women and one is a job that tends to be held by men, and lo and behold the job that intends to be held by men is paid more than the other, that is what this Fair Pay Act seeks to do.

RATH: What about people who would say that, look, the reason this is so intractable is because it's culture? You know, culture is the reason and you can't change culture with laws.

BOUSHEY: Well, we have changed a lot of cultures with laws, and they certainly - they go hand in hand. The example that I think for me immediately comes to mind are laws around same-sex marriage where the changes in our culture and how we feel about that as a society has gone hand in hand with legislative changes. The first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law in his first term of office was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Now, that was an important piece of legislation, but it didn't actually push the ball forward. What it did was undid a Supreme Court decision that said that Lilly Ledbetter could not get damages due to discrimination because the discrimination had happened almost 20 years before. But what I think was interesting about that moment is how much attention the president got for signing that legislation and how important it seems to be to women around the country.

And I think closing the loop in terms of the kinds of policies that can really push the ball forward and make sure that women are earning a fair day's pay, there's an opportunity right now for that that I think then could affect the culture as well.

RATH: Heather Boushey is the chief economist for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Heather, thank you.

BOUSHEY: Thank you.

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RATH: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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