Women and equal pay: A scientific view
April 20th, 2012
04:42 PM ET

Women and equal pay: A scientific view

Almost 50 years ago, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act. It prohibits employers from paying men or women different wages based on gender.

At the time, women earned almost 59 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

Earlier this week, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a fact sheet finding men make more money than women in almost every occupation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

So how is it that after 50 years, women have only increased their relative pay by 18 cents?

“The fact is that women, in the aggregate, have been shown to value the environment in where they work,” said Dr. Marianne Legato, founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. She says these generalizations come from years of brain research.

She said those values include whether the workplace "is supportive and friendly, and relationships with colleagues."

"They are more adept at and interested in teamwork,” Legato added.

Legato has studied brain differences between the sexes for decades, and she said men are more willing to ask for more money when they accept a job.

“Men are extremely competitive. And one of them said to me: 'Money is the report card of life.' I don’t think women see it that way,” Legato said.

Other gender researchers, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Reuben Gur, agreed that brain evolution has trained men to be more aggressive, "but this is a very faint biological explanation" for gender differences in pay, "considering that up until not long ago, women were considered property. So, you didn’t have to pay them anything for their work.”

That long legacy of gender discrimination, Legato notes, is important, as it has shaped the evolution of the human brain.

“Every experience that we have,” Legato says, “actually impacts our genetic make-up. Experience modifies the way our genetic material works.”

So when an individual woman is discriminated against, that actually affects her genetic make-up, which in turn could change her behavior to be more docile. Conversely, Legato said, if a woman is encouraged or treated fairly, her behavior could become more responsive and assertive.

Still, while brain science offers a partial explanation of the pay-gap, Gur said it also reveals a level of discrimination in the entire society.

“You can measure how civilized a country is by how close the salary is between males and females,” Gur adds.

If that’s the measurement, American society is exactly 18 cents worth more civilized compared with 1963.

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. mobitent

    Don't expect us men to pay if you women want equal pay. These studies never take into consideration the gifts, drinks, dinners, and engagement rings that men dole out to women. You want equal pay? Drop the expectation of us having to pay. And for those women who say "I don't let a man pay"...then don't expect gifts or an engagement ring.

    May 5, 2012 at 2:39 am |
  2. helenecha

    It takes money for Women’s Policy Research Department to get every fact sheet. If there is a report card of the Equal Pay Act, do we think that those fact sheets are the records on that card?

    April 21, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  3. Portland tony

    I can't answer for pay difference across the board, but one major hurdle that women face is that period of time when they fall out of lockstep with their male counterparts...Child birth. Major Corporations hire in cycles ...if they are expecting a large contract or sales expansion etc. All those new hires are evaluated and many are put on a fast track to
    middle or senior management. In most cases this means moving around the company taking on new responsibilities in different areas so that at the end of six to ten years they are ready for a solid top paying job. If this programed grooming process is delayed by a woman wanting time off to have a few kids, it throws this entire management selection process out and her peers move into these top jobs. Sometimes they can catch up....but mostly they are left behind.

    evaluated and put on

    April 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm |

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