The gender wage gap is a highly disputed phenomenon. Although new research shows that the earnings gap between men and women starts young and persists even when education level, career, hours worked, etc. are held constant, understanding the causes of the discrepancy in women's earnings is difficult, and identifying possible solutions even more so. And to the dismay of progressives everywhere, even Massachusetts can't figure it out.
The state ranked 37th in median full-time pay for women, according to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data, well behind other New England states. According to the American Association of University Women, women working full-time in the state brought home a median annual earnings of $46,185, just 77% of men's $60,264. (Washington, D.C., where women make 90% of what men do, comes the closest to pay equity, followed by Vermont and Maryland.) This 77% figure mirrors the average pay difference between men and women nationwide. Education level and hours worked are held constant in these calculations.
The Boston Globe quotes Ellie Adiar, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women: “We are a progressive state and we do all these progressive things, but we are still victim to the same social and cultural forces as everyone else in the country.”
Women in Massachusetts are more likely to obtain bachelor's or graduate degrees than women elsewhere in the nation, but these more highly educated women are potentially more likely to encounter managerial bias, argued law professor Deborah Thompson Eisenberg. In these professions, wages are less likely to be negotiated by unions, or based on an hourly salary, which may also prevent women from realizing when they are underpaid.
The Boston Globe further notes, "In Massachusetts, legislators have sought numerous times to update the state equal pay law by more clearly defining 'comparable work,' a delineation that they say will give courts greater power to assess wage equity claims. The act would define comparable work as positions that 'entail comparable skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions between employees of the opposite sex.'"
Of the wage gap, newly-minted Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has said, "It's called equal pay for equal work. It just seems to me not only to be right, it's like the cornerstone of who we are as a people, and the kind of country we build." Hopefully, she will soon turn her attention to addressing the issue within her own state.