By Sara Savat

It has been more than half a century since the landmark Equal Pay Act passed, yet the gender pay gap still exists. On average, women make 18% less than their male counterparts. Lack of transparency in pay contributes to the disparity, according to a Washington University in St. Louis sociologist.

Over the last decade, more than a dozen states plus the District of Columbia have enacted legislation banning pay secrecy policies — workplace rules that prohibit workers from discussing wages and salaries. The laws aim to eliminate a means by which employers can discriminate — intentionally or not — against women in the pay setting.

A new policy brief paper, published by Jake Rosenfeld at Washington University in St. Louis, Shengwei Sun at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Patrick Denice at the University of Western Ontario, examined the effectiveness of these laws.

The research comes as U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet have reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bipartisan bill to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The bill was first introduced in 2010, but Congress has failed to adopt it every year since.

The authors found that despite increased state legislation preventing pay secrecy, informal pay secrecy has increased since 2010 — the last time workers were surveyed on the subject — offsetting a slight decline in formal bans on discussing pay. Between 2017-18, nearly half of full-time workers reported they were either discouraged or formally prohibited from discussing wages and salaries.

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