Five Things You Didn’t Know About the History of Gender Pay Gap

History of Gender Pay Gap BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of TIME.

March 24 is observed as Equal Pay Day during Women’s Month. Even though women have gotten closer and closer to shattering the glass ceiling, we are still not there. According to a research study from PayScale, in 2020, women earn 81 cents for every dollar men make, meaning the gender pay gap remains in force. 

Below are five key moments in history that contributed to the gender pay gap. 

The origin of the gender pay gap dates back to the civil war 

I’m sure we all remember Rosie the Riveter, but before she was even a thing, the Civil War was alive and thriving. In 1862 was the first time women were able to work, therefore cutting and timing the ‘new greenback currency.’ During this time, women made an average salary of $600 a year, which is the equivalent to about $15,500 today — half of what men were earning during that time. The first recorded complaint of gender pay gap dates back to 1869, and it was a letter addressed to the editor of the New York Times.

Women's Work 1800s BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Striking Women.

Women’s work became codified in the late 1800s 

Back then, it was considered cheap labor; today, we can’t say much has changed. The problems women continue to go through in the workforce in 2021 were the same back in the day. This means harassment, being accused of provoking men, and being labeled as a “temptation.” This led to many women being left out of jobs and allowing men to earn higher wages. 

Instead of equal pay, they created the term ‘women’s work,’ which undermined Black women and their opportunities to get better jobs even though they were the wants that were the most employed out of any other race. A study shows that in 1880, 35.4% of married Black women and 73.3% of single Black women worked while 7.3% of married white women and 23.8% of single women worked. However, Black women were still working the lowest wage jobs that were either in domestic work or agricultural work, adding another layer to the gender pay gap. 

Two world wars bring temporary pay

During 1918’s WWI, certain women were allowed to work so men could gear their jobs towards ones that would help the war. During this time, since both men and women were doing the same work, the National War Labor Board raised the argument that they should be paid the same wage. This argument again happened during WWII and was when Rosie the Riveter was born. She symbolized doing the same job and deserving to be paid equally. However, the real reason they weren’t getting the same wage was that men could go back to their jobs once they returned from war. 

Rosie the Riveter BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Magazine.

The ’60s and ’70s brought in a new wave of resistance against gender pay gap

The late JFK sign the Equal Pay Law in 1963 despite the backlash he received from business leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. However, it wasn’t until Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, origin, color, religion, or sex. Still, ‘sex’ was left out uncoincidentally, and businesses were still able to discriminate against that during those years. This went on for several years, particularly against Black women in higher-level positions until the 1970s. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed sex-segregated signs seeking help, saying it violated Title Vii of the Civil Rights Act. 

The Fight Goes On

Although women have made strides in their careers and are slowly seeing the gender pay gap close, we are still a long way to go. Most recently, during the Obama administration, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was signed, allowing women to file a pay discrimination complaint with the government against their employer within a 180-day timeframe from the time they received their last paycheck. 

Additionally, Obama attempted to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act to close the gender wage gap by requiring companies with more than 100 employees to give a sheet of the staff pay broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Unfortunately, the Trump administration completely overlooked the initiative. Luckily though, the EEOC is renewing this commitment by beginning to collect the data this coming April. 

More people have realized that this is just unacceptable in the current modern age. Still, specialists expect that it will take another 40 years to reach full gender equality.