Gender-based wage discrimination remains a pernicious problem in the workplace despite enactment over 50 years ago of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women in the same workplace who perform substantially equal work.
As the Supreme Court recognized in the 1973 case of Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, the Act was designed "to remedy what was perceived to be a serious and endemic problem of employment discrimination in private industry − the fact that the wage structure of many segments of American industry has been based on an ancient but outmoded belief that a man, because of his role in society, should be paid more than a woman even though his duties are the same." 417 U.S. 188, 195. Despite this country’s clear goal of eradicating wage discrimination, we have allowed the statute to become outdated, thereby limiting its effectiveness as a tool to remedy gender-based wage discrimination.
Unequal pay for substantially equal work exists across a wide spectrum of occupations, regardless of educational level or geographical location, and is a contributing factor to the persistent gender wage gap. According to the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020, on average, women working full-time were paid 83 cents for every dollar earned by men, and in 2023, Payscale published data showing that the pay gap has not changed since then. The wage gap for African American women and Latinas is worse, and additional factors, like motherhood and single-parent status, compound the effect across-the-board.
This wage gap cannot be dismissed entirely as the inevitable by-product of "women’s choices" in education, career and family matters; recent authoritative studies show that even when all relevant career and family attributes are taken into account, there still is an unexplained gap between men’s and women’s earnings.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, an analysis of 2022 earnings data published by the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics stated, “In 2022, women earned less than men for full-time weekly work in almost all occupations, including in 19 of the largest 20 occupations for women, and in all of the largest 20 occupations for men. Teaching Assistants (median weekly earnings of $662) is the only occupation with no gender difference in median weekly earnings for women and men working full-time. It also concluded that “[a}fter adjusting for inflation, women’s and men’s real median weekly earnings in 2022 were lower than in 2021, by 2.7 percent for women, and 2.6 percent for men.