Men are not supposed to be paid more for performing a particular job just because they are men. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it a legal federal requirement that pay scales for identical work be the same regardless of whether the employee doing the labor is male or female. If a woman works the same hours, performs the same tasks, and has to meet the same goals for her employer as a man does, she is entitled to equal pay.
When women are paid less than men based on their gender, it is a form of sex discrimination and it is illegal.
The following statistics show how women are often underpaid in the United States.
Pay Inequality - Women Earn Less Than Men Across the Board
Today, on average, a woman earns 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, and women's median annual earnings are $10,086 less than men's, according to data from the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau.
The percentage increases somewhat for female workers between the ages of 25 and 34, indicating that older women and young women fare worse when it comes to pay equality. Women in this age demographic earned 90 percent of men's salaries and wages, although this is still significantly less than equal.
Women must work on average an additional 44 days to earn the same annual salary as their male counterparts.
Even in jobs categories such as child care that are predominantly occupied by women, they still only earn about 95 percent of men's wages for performing the same jobs.
While progress has been made toward pay parity between the sexes over the past 55 years, the Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates that it will not be reached until 2059.
What Pay Inequity Looks Like, State by State
According to data from the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau, the average gender pay gap in the United States is around 19.5 percent, meaning that, on average, a woman earns 80.5 percent less than her male counterpart. That gap can be larger or smaller depending on the state someone lives in.
Most states have implemented laws against gender discrimination, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects women at the federal level, yet disparities persist.
In Louisiana, for instance, the gender pay gap is 30 percent, the biggest wage gap in the nation. Twenty-nine states in the country currently have gender pay gaps that are larger than the national average.
New York has the smallest pay gap at 11 percent, with full-time, year-round women over 25 there making a median salary of $47,358, while men make $53,124.
The Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act does not mandate that jobs held by men and women must be identical for purposes of receiving the same pay, but that they should be "substantially similar"—which is the government's way of saying that each performs much the same duties regardless of job title. The Equal Pay Act does permit aggrieved workers to take their complaints up directly with the state or federal court system without having to first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It's also important to note that employers are not permitted to equalize pay in the face of a complaint by reducing the wages or salary of the higher paid employee.