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A Brief History of Women’s Fight for Equal Pay


As long ago as 1776, Abigail Adams implored her husband to “remember the ladies” while drafting the Constitution. John Adams was not easily swayed, asserting that men “know better than to repeal our masculine systems.” Women have been fighting for the right to be treated as equals ever since, including the right to be paid the same as men for similar work. The following is a brief history of attempts to ensure equal pay for women in modern times.

(Photo Credit: State Library of Victoria Collections/Flickr)

Equal Pay Act of 1963

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The Equal Pay Act, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, made it illegal to pay men and women working in the same place different salaries for similar work. Unfortunately, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU,) the Act has not been able to achieve its promise of closing the wage gap because of limited enforcement tools and inadequate remedies. Therefore, women still earn less money than their male counterparts for the same work.

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

Adding the ERA to the Constitution would be a boon for working women and our pay. It would grant women a constitutional right to equal pay for equal work. Unfortunately, since 1972, there has been enough opposition to the idea of granting women and men equal constitutional protections to prevent the ERA’s ratification. Over the past four decades, arguments against granting women equal constitutional rights with men include:

  • Women would lose the right to be supported by their husbands;
  • Privacy rights would be overturned;
  • Women would be sent into combat;
  • Abortion rights would be upheld;
  • Homosexual marriages would be legalized; and, in addition,
  • States’-rights advocates have called the ERA a federal power grab; and
  • Business interests (such as the insurance industry) have opposed the measure because they think it will cost them money.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

Lilly Ledbetter fought in court for ten years because she was paid less than males who did the same work at Goodyear. Her $3 million settlement was overturned on appeal. She will never receive restitution. However, in 2009, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier to file a claim. Before the law, women had only 180 days from being discriminated against to file a claim. The new law defines each paycheck as a new discriminatory act, so now women have 180 days from the date of their last paycheck to file. Even so, our laws are still far from perfect.

Paycheck Fairness Act

In April of this year, the Senate fell six votes short of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA). One argument against passing this legislation is that we already have laws making discrimination on the basis of gender illegal.

The PFA proposed critical changes to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, including:

  • The PFA requires employers to demonstrate that wage differentials are based on factors other than gender. This shifts the burden of proof from the worker to the employer;
  • Prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages;
  • Permits reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages;
  • Strengthens penalties for equal pay violations;
  • Directs the Department of Labor to collect wage-related data; and
  • Authorizes training for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staff.

Best and Worst States for the Gender Pay Gap

According to research published by WalletHub, in all 50 states, working women earn less money than men.

Arizona boasts the smallest pay gap, with women earning just under 87 cents each for every dollar a man earns. California, Maryland, Florida, and Nebraska also have notably small gender pay gaps.

Wyoming has the highest wage gap, with women earning a measly 65 cents each for every man’s dollar. Mississippi, Alaska, West Virginia, and Louisiana are also on the wall of gender pay gap shame.

It seems obvious that we need additional legislation to overcome current pay discrimination, but getting it passed is a difficult battle. The United States of America can do better.

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Do you worry about the gender pay gap in your place of work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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No doubt most pay-equity advocates think employers are greedy profiteers who’d hire only illegal immigrants for their lower labor cost if they could get away with it. Or who’d move their business to a cheap-labor country to save money. Or replace old workers with young ones for the same reason. So why do these same advocates think employers would NOT hire only women if, as they say, employers DO get away with paying females at a lower rate than males… Read more »


In response to Kevin’s comment regarding the equal pay vs. number of hours worked: While it is true that the average woman works less hours than the average men, this is a biased statement and the article referenced is also biased (but not untrue). It leaves out some crucial information, that being when comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges, same job and same amount of hours, salaries for women are lower than for men. The studies that are… Read more »


Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was… Read more »


Well … while I don’t really want to follow that last rant, it seems that the reason women earn less than men is that women work less than men for pay! In the US, Equal Work Day fell on April 10 this year – two days after Equal Pay Day. Do women work less for family reasons, or because they prefer a better life balance? It’s hard to say – but you can’t argue with the facts. Check out the… Read more »

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