An IOU for Women: The Disparity in Pay Between Men and Women since 1930

“Women don’t cause the pay gap, employers do.” – Nick Corcodilos, executive recruiter.


A pay gap has existed since women started working outside the home, post industrial revolution. The pay gap has two aspects: women getting paid less than men while working the same job, and, even in the 21st Century, women making on average 80 cents to the dollar of what men are making1.

Check out this video below that gives a good overview of my topic, and explains the wage gap as much more than 79%:

(Above) a Vox video explaining the wage gap as a much different issue than the simple statistic of 79%2.


As a female who hopes to have a successful job one day, this topic is directly relevant to my future. In addition, growing up, one of my family’s favorite movies was A League of Their Own (1992), where two sisters join the “All-American Girls Baseball League.”

Image result for a league of their ownImage result for a league of their ownImage result for all american women's baseball league hall of fame

(Left) The movie’s “team photo”3 next to the poster (Middle) promoting “A League of their Own”4. (Right) The actual “All-American” Girls baseball team from 1943, the “Rockford Peaches”5.

This is a true story of the league created to replace Major League Baseball, during World War II. It is an uplifting and comedic story that shows the adversity that these women overcame breaking into a previously all male profession.

Only recently, did I wonder: how much they were getting paid? Were they even getting paid at all?

What I did know, was that during World War II, women were asked by the U.S. government to step in and work jobs “traditionally” meant for men6. These were not “typical” jobs associated with women at that time (i.e. nurse, secretary, teacher). These were jobs vital to the war effort; on assembly lines and in factories, women kept the American economy intact.

Many people think the pay gap is only a myth, or that it is just a percent earnings gap (i.e. men have higher paying jobs on average), and I hope to settle that definitively.


The problem began as soon as women entered the public workforce in the early 20th century. These jobs were mainly in manual labor jobs, alongside children in sweatshops, or with other domestic services, such as seamstresses or maids. 

(Below) Pictured are the working women of the 1930s7.

1930_women.jpgThis was a period of massive social and economic change. There was an increase in the public presence of women, the organization of unions, and the women’s suffrage movement, among other feminist movements advocating for workplace fairness, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor8. Unfortunately, the new labor laws created during that period, in an effort to improve working conditions, actually ended up restricting the rights of the working women.

Women couldn’t work longer than an eight-hour day, whereas men continued to, and they couldn’t lift heavy weights, as it was thought to harm their ability to bear children9. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the number of jobs dramatically decreased, so the ones that remained, were given to men because they had to “support [their] families”10. During this period, the pendulum swung back to women in a domestic role and reinforced the idea of “separate spheres” (ie. men belong in the work sphere, and women belong in the domestic one). The jobs that women held, paid them less because they were assumed not to be the ones supporting a family. In 1930, there were almost no female engineers, and today, the amount of female engineers is still less than 35%, not 50/5011.

Occasionally, women did stand out. Amelia Earhart was a superstar in the early days of aviation, and Eleanor Roosevelt completely changed the role of the First Lady. Beginning in 1933, Eleanor was active in White House policy and public relations, in part, because of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s severe polio. While ordinary women were allowed into different industries and helped better the labor industry with things like the creation of the “social safety net” (insurance, minimum wage laws, and Social Security), there was no regulation of the difference of a man and a woman’s salary12.

Image result for amelia earhartImage result for eleanor roosevelt working in the white houseImage result for eleanor roosevelt working in the white house

(Left) Amelia Earhart pictured before her final flight13. (Middle) Eleanor Roosevelt in the white house the night of the Pearl Harbor attack14. (Right) Eleanor Roosevelt Speaking at the United Nations15.

A Dartmouth study of women’s wages, sums it up perfectly—it is said that during this era “men were paid on the value they created and women on their assumed need”16.


World War II lasted from 1941 to 1945 for the United States, and since the men were serving in combat, this left a “gaping hole in the industrial labor force”17. In fact, by the end of the war, “one out of every four married women worked outside the home”18. A few women were allowed non-combat roles during the war in the Army and Navy, but most were back home in America, building an industrial powerhouse of a nation. African-American women also participated in the labor force, but they faced even more discrimination than white women and were worse off economically. Typically, this forced both parents to work19.


After the conclusion of the war, the pendulum swung back again, in favor of men in the work sphere and women in the domestic sphere, despite the effort of the Secretary of Labor, Lewis Schwellenbach.

He fought for an equal pay amendment arguing, “There is no sex difference in the food she buys or the rent she pays, there should be none in her pay envelope”20.

This was unsuccessful because the nation was focused on Veteran employment and pushing women back into a domestic role21. Years passed, and in 1963, the Equal Pay Act, was a seemingly pivotal moment in the timeline of women fighting for equal pay. This Act simply required equal wages for men and women doing the same work22; it was the first time this issue was recognized nationally. President, John F. Kennedy was strongly in favor, and was even quoted saying “⅓ of our workforce is women, yet they make ⅕ of what a man makes. Twenty-two states have implemented equal pay laws, but we can do better than that!”23.

Image result for               Image result for 1950s housewife                     Image result for 1950s housewife

(Above) 1950s promotional posters24 and informative guides25 on being the “proper housewife”26.


The real problem was enforcement. Note that, “favoritism and nepotism are not illegal”27At a rally in New York City in 2017, city Comptroller Scott Stringer is quote describing the women’s wage gap as an elevator: “Women get in the door on entry level salaries, but then they get on the elevator and the elevator slows down”28.

Another important turning point, was the Civil Rights movement, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was implemented, “prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”29.

This would seem to have sealed the deal, and women would now be paid the same. However, employers were quick to work around this rule. The Act required the employer to be able to provide an explanation for paying someone less than the other in the same job; however, salaries are kept secret that most employees don’t know when they are being underpaid in the first place!

There was also the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, allowing parents of any gender to take time off after a new birth, but it was not effective enough, and “paternity leave” did not gain popularity until the turn of the 21st century30.


Since the early 20th century, women’s presence in the workforce has greatly increased. In the second half of the 20th century especially, going from ⅓ to ½ of women working31. However, the wage gap has persisted. Many people have heard the commonly known statistic that women make 80 cents to the dollar of what a man makes. However, this is not the whole truth. That percentage is a male to female comparison based on average income, and it is worse for non-white women. For Hispanic or Latino women, they make 54% of the white man’s salary on average. African American or Black Women, make 63% and interestingly, Asian women make 87%32.

Some people dismiss the pay gap as a myth, with the facts that women are as a whole in lower-ranking, and therefore lower paying jobs33. While true, the crux of the issue is when a man and a woman work the same job, and the woman is paid less. There are many theories why women are paid less, and possibly paid less for the same job, such as the “motherhood penalty”34 and the “glass ceiling”35.

Due to the long-ingrained stereotype of females belonging in the domestic sphere, many women face a dilemma after having a child, of whether to become a stay-at-home mother or have a full or part-time career. The “motherhood penalty” is companies not valuing female employees because of the fear that women may decide to have children and may take maternity leave or not return. Another misconception is that women don’t ask for promotions as often. But a 2016 survey found that women and men in corporate America ask for promotions at the same rate36. It is also thought that women receive less because the time in one’s life for big promotions, usually coincides with a woman’s most fertile childbirthing years. The fact that men are usually paid more than women, can lead the woman to be the person in a male-female partnership to sacrifice her career, thus aiding this vicious cycle37.

The “glass ceiling” describes the dynamic that makes it hard for women to “break through” to senior positions by earning promotions. Women appear “less available because they have or will have children”38. This is described as “a barrier so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy”39. In addition to the difficulty of rising to the top, women are still stereotyped into the more nurturing roles of society: teachers, nurses, secretaries, and health aides (all of which are 80% women)—lower paying than occupations such as doctors or scientists40.

Furthermore, CNBC still reports that even in the exact same job, men earn on average 2.4% more than women. Men were also “41% more likely to go into management roles and nearly twice as likely to have an executive position in the later stages of their careers”41.

In 2009, President Obama’s first bill signed in office, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The name came as a result of a court case in which Ledbetter argued and provided evidence of pay discrimination based on sex, but the court ruled she was filing for pay undercuts from further back than 18 months.This was because she did not realize she was being underpaid, so this new legislation restored protections to prevent a situation like this again, and it motivated employers to have fair payrolls as well42.

Image result for president obama equal pay executive order

(Above) President Obama signing legislation43.

Obama also signed two executive orders in 2014, in effort to narrow the pay gap. The first one, outlawed the levying of penalties against a worker discussing his or her salary with the company, and the other required companies to submit numbers of how employees of different races and sexes are paid. Critics claimed, however, that the President only stirred the pot, but did not affect real and permanent change44. The proposed Paycheck Fairness Act (2014), would have amended the Civil Rights Act to require employers to demonstrate that pay differences were not based on sex, to collect pay data from employers categorized by sex, race, and national origin, and require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (established in 1965) to track wage discrimination matters. In addition, the Secretary of Labor would be given more resources to offer negotiation skills training for women, and conduct studies to figure out ways to eliminate pay discrimination45. This could have helped in discovering the root of pay disparity. Unfortunately, this legislation was blocked by Republican senators the day after it was submitted46 and did not become law47. In my solution, I am looking for permanent and active change. The only way to confront this issue is head-on. After my thorough background research, I have learned that while there have been valiant attempts, change has not gone far enough.

As President Obama said in response to those skeptical of a pay gap’s legitimacy, “It’s not a myth; it’s math”48.



Here’s What Finally Beat Dentist for the Best Job in America

(Photo Above)49

In the past 50 years, the gap has been steadily declining; however, that decline has plateaued in recent years and if it is to continue at that same rate, the United States would not see pay equity for possibly another 50 years50.

(Above) Projected pay equity from the AAUW51.


In 2016, there was new equal pay legislation proposed in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, that was implemented January 1st, 201752. The California legislation pioneered change, and New York modeled theirs after California. This legislation requires employers to justify pay differences and restricts the reasons why an employer can pay employees differently. The reasons are: “seniority, merit, quality or quantity or production,” and it specifically cannot be because of sex53. The employers also cannot prohibit employees from exercising their rights and discussing their pay relative to that of their coworkers. Additionally, employees can file complaints with the California Division of Labor Standards if they feel they are being unfairly paid. New York is approaching this standard, and “Massachusetts [was] the first state to ban employers from seeking information about applicants’ compensation history in the hiring process54.

This was a pivotal part of the legislation, because prohibiting employers to ask about previous salaries, lowers the risk of employers deciding to pay the prospective hire less based on their employment history. I think all of these new policies have ample potential to affect change; however, I believe that it is important for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) to work closely with employers and employees to track whether or not these policies have proven effective.


I would add mandated check-ins between the EEOC and companies in the states above (ie. a survey asking employees if they feel like they are being under or overpaid or are not sure). It is important to receive feedback and make changes before proposed nationwide for strategic reasons—the more refined these policies can be, the better. These states are similar to the trial groups, and if rates of employee discrimination decrease, it could promote a nationwide movement.

The Federal Government should act to make these policies law in every state. I have contacted our two California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, inquiring about the current status of equal pay laws on the Federal level already. I want to see this legislation passed on a Federal level so that all workers, in all states, are protected.

Timeline for this plan:

1. In January of 2021, this legislation is brought to the federal level.

In the meantime, we decide on a bill sponsor in the House (from either California, New York, Massachusetts, or Maryland) to sponsor the bill and have the strong backing of representatives from the states above55.

2. The time from now until 2021, we spend refining, gathering data, and getting feedback on the legislation.

It could also be a strategic move to wait until Congress is less dominated by Republicans. Depending on the 2018 elections (ie. if the house majority changes), waiting until 2019 or 2021 with a new and energized administration may mean it would be more likely for this to pass.

Things that you can do:

It is crucial that your local representatives know that there are many people who are passionate about this topic. Write to your local Congresspeople! Attend open forums/meetings within your city council! Also, this research is constantly changing. If you want to learn more, check out the article below. There is more and more research coming out every day about this topic and the implemented legislation’s impacts.


Finally, I believe there are strong parallels between this movement and the movement for Women’s Suffrage. There is momentum in the states, now, just as there was in the early 20th century.

Image result for feminism male = female graphic                           Image result for carrie chapman catt address to congress on women's suffrage

(Above, Left)56 The true definition of feminism: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”57(Right) Carrie Chapman Catt sitting around fellow women’s suffrage advocates58.

As Carrie Chapman Catt said in her address to Congress: “The time for women’s [equal pay] has come. If parties prefer to postpone action longer and thus do battle with this idea, they challenge the inevitable. The idea will not perish”59.


(Below)60 Side-by-side pictures of women protesting61 throughout the years62.

1968: Women bus conductors protest for equal rights at work. | 13 Photos Of Women Fighting For Equal Pay Throughout History   Women's Strike for Peace and Equality, New York City, Aug. 26, 1970.   AAUW joined the PowHer New York movement for equal pay



  1. Miller
  2. VOX
  3. Potts
  4. “A League of Their Own.”
  5. Carr
  6. Staff
  7. “1930s Status of Women.”
  8. Lewis
  9. “Women’s Rights.”
  10. Lewis
  11. Lewis
  12. Lewis
  13. “New Evidence in the Search for Amelia Earhart.”
  14. “Posts Tagged ‘Franklin and Eleanor’.”
  15. “Eleanor Roosevelt.”
  16. Eitel
  17. Staff
  18. Staff
  19. Eitel
  20. Alter
  21. Alter
  22. “Women’s Rights.”
  23. Lehrer
  24. “The Legacy of Home.”
  25. Chang
  26. B
  27. Wilkie
  28. O’Hara
  29. Alter
  30. Alter
  31. Eitel
  32. Miller
  33. “Are Women Paid Less than Men for the Same Work?”
  34. “The Gender Pay Gap.”
  35. Webb
  36. “The Gender Pay Gap.”
  37. “The Gender Pay Gap.”
  38. Webb
  39. “Empowering Women in Business”
  40. “The Gender Pay Gap.”
  41. Dickler
  42. Alter
  43. Lederman
  44. Dann
  45. Mikulski
  46. Lehrer
  47. Dickler
  48. Dann
  49. Aebischer
  50. Anderson
  51. Miller
  52. DIR
  53. Pay Equity Group
  54. DIR
  55. “The Legislative Process.”
  56. “’Equality – Merged Male and Female Gender Symbols’ Art Print by Taiche.”
  57. “Feminism.”
  58. Hutson
  59. Catt
  60. Gerlach
  61. Cohen
  62. Davidson

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Aebischer, Christine. “Here’s What Finally Beat Dentist for the Best Job in America.” Financial

Planning Services and Personal Finance News, LearnVest, 11 Jan. 2018,


Alter, Charlotte. “Equal Pay Day: Here’s the History of the Fight for Equal Pay for Women.” Time,

Time, 14 Apr. 2015,


Anderson, Julie. “Pay Equity & Discrimination.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research,


“Are Women Paid Less than Men for the Same Work?” The Economist, The Economist

Newspaper, 1 Aug. 2017,

Dann, Carrie. “Obama on Gender Pay Gap: ‘It’s Not a Myth, It’s Math’ .” Politics, CNBC, 8 Apr. 2014,


B, Shane. “Becoming the Ultimate Housewife.” 1950s Housewife,


Carr, Sam. “Before A League of Their Own.” Baseball Hall of Fame, National Baseball Hall of



Catt, Carrie Chapman. “Address to Congress on Women’s Suffrage.” American Rhetoric.

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Chang, Angel. “This 1955 ‘Good House Wife’s Guide’ Explains How Wives Should Treat Their



Cohen, Sascha. “Women’s Equality Day: The History of When Women Went on Strike.” Time,

Time, 26 Aug. 2015,


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Dickler, Jessica. “Men Still Earn More Than Women With the Same Job.” Personal Finance,

CNBC, 6 Dec. 2016,


DIR. “California Equal Pay Act.” Department of Industrial Relations, State of California,


Eitel, Helena. “History 90.01: Topics in Digital History.” History 9001 Topics in Digital History,, 31 Oct. 2016,



“Eleanor Roosevelt.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Mar. 2018,


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“Feminism.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,


Gerlach. “13 Photos Of Women Fighting For Equal Pay Throughout History.” Pinterest, 28 Mar.

2015, Staff. “American Women in World War II.”, A&E Television



Hutson, James. “John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American RelationsFrom

Abolition to Equal Rights.”, Library of Congress, 22 July 2010,


Lederman, Josh. “Obama: More Work Needed to Close the Pay Gap for Women,

Minorities.”PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 29 Jan. 2016,


Lehrer, Brian. “30 Issues | A History of Equal Pay and the Wage Gap.” WNYC, The Brian Lehrer

Show, 20 Sept. 2016,


Lewis, Jone Johnson. “How Did Women’s Roles Change in the 1930s in the USA?” ThoughtCo,

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Mikulski, Barbara A. “S. 84 – Paycheck Fairness Act.”, U.S. Federal Legislation, 4

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“New Evidence in the Search for Amelia Earhart.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 8

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“The Legislative Process.”, U.S. House of Representatives,


“The Gender Pay Gap.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 7 Oct. 2017,


VOX. What People Miss About the Gender Wage Gap. Youtube, Vox, 7 Sept. 2016,


Webb, Jonathan. “Women Are Still Paid Less Than Men – Even In The Same Job.” Forbes,

Forbes Magazine, 31 Mar. 2016,


Wilkie, Dana. “When Two Workers Doing the Same Job Earn Different Pay.”, Society

for Human Resource Management, 27 Feb. 2017,


“Women’s Rights.” WIC – Women’s History in America, Women’s International Center, 1994,


Cover Photo: Marilyn Monroe.


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