It's the kind of issue that Berkshire County's own Susan B. Anthony would have probably taken to heart. Massachusetts may be one of the most progressive states in the country -- it was the first state to require equal pay for comparable work by men and women, in 1945 no less. But despite that groundbreaking progress, Massachusetts, strangely, still lags far behind the rest of the country in that area.
According to 2011 federal Census data analyzed by the American Association of University Women, women in Massachusetts earned 77 percent of what men took home in median full-time pay in 2010. That percentage places Massachusetts last among the six New England states in that category, and 37th among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. What makes the matter even odder is that Massachusetts has an extremely well-educated female workforce.
Equal pay for women was a hotly contested issue during the presidential campaign -- remember Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment? And it probably will continue to be so. It's hard to see how the state can lag so far behind in this area, considering that a greater percentage of Massachusetts women delay motherhood until later in life, and also earn more bachelor and graduate degrees than their counterparts nationwide. But then again, maybe it's not.
Although the earning of college degrees was assumed to be a stepping stone on the way to equal pay, The Boston Globe reports that evidence now shows that higher levels of education actually widen the salary gap. Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, a law professor at the University of Maryland, told The Globe that women with more education who work in upper- level professional jobs are more likely to be subject to choices of managers, meaning that they are more unlikely than men to receive discretionary pay, such as stock options and bonuses. Thompson Eisenberg also believes that salary discretion also favors men's negotiating skills, which tend to be more effective than women's, which means men performing the same tasks as women often have higher starting salaries. Nationally, women with professional degrees made 72 percent of men's pay in 2010, which is eight points less than those with doctoral degrees. The percentage of pay for women with either a high school, associate, bachelor's or master's degree is only slightly higher, at either 76 or 77 percent.
To be fair, the wage gap has shortened significantly since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who did basically the same work. Full-time working women made 59 percent of what men were paid then, according to The Globe.
On the federal level, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to prove that wage differences are driven by business necessity and prohibited companies from retaliating against those who question pay disparities, according to The Globe, failed in Congress. There's an interesting Massachusetts twist to this failed legislation. Outgoing Senator Scott Brown voted against it, believing it would burden businesses. Incoming Senator Elizabeth Warren is in favor of the legislation. We'll see what happens when legislators take up the issue again after the holidays.