Could a New Study of Monkeys Explain the Psychology of the Wage Gap?

Ladies: Upset over unequal pay? Patriarchy got you down? You aren’t alone.

According to a recent study by primatologist Frans de Waal and biologist Sarah Brosnan, the Capuchin monkey is just as infuriated about receiving the short end of the, erm, ... cucumber ... as you are. In this experiment, two Capuchins are asked to hand their trainer a rock. As payment, the first monkey receives a piece of cucumber which she seems reasonably satisfied with, that is, until the second monkey is offered a grape for performing the exact same task. Monkey #1 hands her trainer another rock, and is again offered a slice of cucumber.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than deftly accepting her payment, Monkey #1 examines the cucumber for half a second then aggressively throws it at her trainer’s face. The pattern continues as the second monkey receives grapes for completing the same job as the first. Sound familiar?


Given, unequal pay in the human workforce is less blatant. Salaries are deposited directly into back accounts, not paraded around the office. This makes inequality much harder to detect. But that doesn’t mean fighting back can’t or shouldn’t happen.

If nothing else, the Capuchin monkeys serve as a reminder that inequality is not a construct of our imagination, and furthermore that it is not okay. Although throwing a paycheck isn’t as satisfying as say, a solid piece of food, perhaps the women of America should take a leaf out of the Capuchin book and refuse to settle for anything less than grapes.

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