Women at Work: You’ve Come a Long Way… Maybe

By: Greg Brown

It will take decades more to close the pay gap, until 2058, IWPR reports — if pay equity doesn’t simply become a permanent future ideal that’s never achieved, despite legislation and good intentions.

It’s easy to say “men and women do different work,” and that’s often true. In addition, many women voluntarily stop working for a period — to rear children, for instance — then can fall into lower-paying jobs or find their skills have atrophied, stagnating advancement.

Researchers carefully control for these differences and a stubborn disparity remains. “Once you look across groups of workers with similarities, that gap still exists,” says Jessica Milli, PhD, a senior research associate at IWPR. “Even if we were able to explain away the entirety of the wage gap, the fact that there are differences is an important thing and a thing that needs to be addressed.”

One avenue toward change is legislation that aims to lighten the penalty women pay for choosing to care for children, such as paid family leave. Women in states with paid leave are more likely to return to the workforce and to return to their previous employer, Milli points out.

Another is pay transparency — making salaries public information. “A big thing that is emerging is comparable worth, since men and women are in different careers. If you take two workers with these same education performing jobs with the same skill, effort and working under same conditions, those same jobs need to pay the same,” Milli says.

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