Stars, They’re Just like Us! The Gender Wage Gap Isn’t Just for Hollywood

By: Elizabeth Hupper, Inside Politics Participant

It’s 2015 and we’ve come a long way: equal rights for genders are in play, women have had the vote for almost a century, and we have two female presidential candidates in the election cycle. It would stand to reason that women and men are paid the same for equal work; however, empirical evidence demonstrates otherwise. A significant wage gap in the United States still exists, affecting women in all sectors. And according to recent studies, this gap is widening even further.

The gender wage gap has been garnering a lot of attention recently in Hollywood of all places. Last February, Patricia Arquette addressed the gender wage disparity in her Oscar acceptance speech: “We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights, it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all.” Her comments received a standing ovation from audiences and, later, glowing praise. She is not the only actress who has been vocal about pay inequality: just last week Jennifer Lawrence published an essay addressing wage disparities. This was largely in response to the Sony hacks, which exposed that she and Amy Adams were paid less than their male counterparts in the blockbuster film, “American Hustle.”

Yet, these issues don’t just remain in the already-lavish lives of celebrities; these gender wage gaps affect everyday lives of millions of Americans.

Women who worked full time earned 81.1 cents for every dollar a man earned from July through September of 2015. Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard University, found that the gap even exists for identical jobs, even when controlling for hours, education, race and age. She found that female doctors and surgeons earn 71 percent of what their male colleagues make. Additionally, it’s been calculated that, one year after college graduation, women earn 6.6 percent less than men after controlling for occupation and hours. Female M.B.A. graduates earn, on average, $4,600 less than male classmates for their first job.

Joanne Lipman, an opinion columnist at the New York Times, agreed; “More than a half-century after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the gap between what men and women earn has defied every effort to close it. And it can’t be explained away as a statistical glitch, a function of women preferring lower-paying industries or choosing to take time off for kids.” She’s right. It’s been over fifty years since JFK signed the Act, and not much has changed.

But why is there a gap in the first place? Some theorize that it isn’t necessarily a company purposely paying women less, but rather a function of men being more likely to ask for a raise. When they do, men are four times more likely to ask for a higher raise than a woman would.

Some theorists have suggested major companies publish their own gender pay gap, which has already been done by Britain, Austria, and Belgium. Unfortunately, the reality of a plan such as this being put in action in the United States is not very likely. Opponents argue it’s expensive and doesn’t establish enough concrete evidence. But the transparency has been proven to be very telling in the wage gap issue; after these reports, about 20 percent of large companies trained employees to recognize unconscious bias.

The spotlight has been set on gender wage gaps, and it’s time to do something about it.