Today is Equal Pay Day, and on Capitol Hill the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is testifying about its groundbreaking research on the pay gap between men and women.
In its report, Behind the Pay Gap, AAUW reveals that just one year after college graduation women earn only 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn – despite the fact that women outperform men with slightly higher GPA’s in every college major, including science and mathematics.
“By looking at earnings just one year out of college, you have as level a playing field as possible,” said AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill. “These employees don’t have a lot of experience and, for the most part, don’t have care-giving obligations, so you’d expect there to be very little difference in the wages of men and women. But surprisingly, and unfortunately, we find that women already earn less – even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts.”
The study also found that women who attended highly selective colleges earn less than men from moderately selective colleges and about the same as their contemporaries from minimally selective colleges. Ten years after graduation, the pay gap widens with women earning 69 percent of what men earn and having far less authority in the workplace.
The organization celebrated its 125th anniversary this past November and has over 100,000 members, 1,300 branches, and 500 college and university partners. It has fought for decades for pay equity, a woman’s right to vote, and legislation that protects women at home, in schools, and in the workplace. It has also conducted high-quality research about women in higher education, sexual harassment, and workplace equity.
On a personal note, The Nation shares a special connection with AAUW. Freda Kirchwey was the editor here for 22 years, from 1933 to1955 – the first woman editor at a national weekly newsmagazine. (She shook the place up as an assistant editor, editing a series called These Modern Women, 17 anonymous essays by distinguished women that examined new feminist views in 1926 and 1927. It was so ahead of its time that The Feminist Press republished the series in 1989, revealing that its authors included Crystal Eastman, Mary Austin, and Genevieve Taggard.)
In 1945, Kirchwey was the keynote speaker at the AAUW convention. Due to travel bans during World War II, the event was held as a “Meeting of the Minds and Not Persons” and broadcast on the radio nationwide to its 75,000 members. Kirchwey had led the call for America’s entrance into World War II – no easy feat as Warner Oliver of The Saturday Evening Post wrote: “The historic role of The Nation had been that, since wars had never resulted in good, this country should attend strictly to its own business and insulate herself from foreign affairs.”
But Kirchwey was a fierce opponent of fascism. And the AAUW, too, renounced a strictly pacifist position, advocating aid to “those countries fighting for human rights, even at the risk of war,” according to Susan Levine, author of Degrees of Equality. The organization felt that women should play an equal role in national defense and advocated for military service for women.
“Women cannot afford to let democracy go down,” Kirchwey urged AAUW members, adding, “… a peculiarly heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of American women.”
The same holds true today. Good to see AAUW doing this important work on Pay Equity Day. And, here at The Nation – where I serve as one of too few women editors at a political magazine – we continue to champion the pioneering work Freda Kirchwey did well before her time.