By Lauren Collins

The gender pay gap is often justified by the argument that women go into lower-status, less competitive fields. But research has shown that when women saturate a well-compensated field the pay declines, and vice versa. The wages of ticket agents, for example, dropped forty-three per cent between 1950 and 2000, as the job feminized. Computer programmers, meanwhile, made modest wages until men took over much of the profession. Even when you adjust for factors such as education and industry, an unexplained discrepancy of an estimated five per cent persists. In other words, the gender pay gap cannot be explained away by women’s perceived or real choices. “What is left over is what we can’t explain with anything that can be easily measured, and that’s basically the proxy for discrimination,” Ariane Hegewisch, of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, has said.

Half of American women who work say that they are the primary breadwinners of their families. The I.W.P.R. estimates that if women were paid equally, the United States economy would gain five hundred and twelve billion dollars in additional wage and salary income, spurring economic growth. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, a working woman, on average, would receive enough money for fourteen more months of childcare and a year and a half’s worth of food. Pay inequity has been illegal for almost sixty years, but, at current rates, America will not close the gender pay gap until at least 2059.

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