On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy probably considered the gender pay gap closed after he signed the Equal Pay Act prohibiting wage discrimination on the basis of sex. Yet his own state of Massachusetts saw the need to pass the 2016 equal pay law, and even now, women still earn 14 percent less than men. Today hope hangs on two state Senate bills that would require salary transparency within companies (S.1191) and by industry (S.1181). Both have been referred to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
If research on Danish companies holds true in the United States, these bills, if passed, should help bridge the gap. In 2006, the Danish government mandated companies with 35 or more employees to report gender wage gaps. Not only did the pay gap narrow, but companies under mandate hired and promoted more women. That’s great news, but not everyone works for a company. If we as a society don’t address other factors that depress women’s wages, the gap won’t disappear.
A major wage-suppressor is children, at least for the women who have them. Before becoming parents, men and women earn about the same, according to a study of business school graduates by Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven, but after becoming parents, men earn 60 percent more than women. Mothers often grab jobs offering flexibility, which also often pay less, an average drop of 4 percent with each child, while fathers’ wages increase 6 percent with each child. Mothers seeking full-time employment can be hit with a “motherhood penalty,” a term Stanford University sociologist Shelley Correll coined after she found that hiring managers would offer an interview twice as often to childless female candidates as to equally qualified mothers.
Childbearing isn’t the only barrier women face. Even accounting for mothers’ shorter work hours and fathers’ greater overtime, the wage gap persists.