Equality, at last?

Closing California’s gender wage gap only addresses some causes of inequality

California governor Jerry Brown (David McNew/Getty Images)

When Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act this week, it became illegal for California employers to pay unequal wages for “substantially similar work” — not only equal work — and made retaliation toward employees who ask about their coworkers’ wages unlawful. The gender wage gap in California was already more narrow than the rest of the country (California women make 84 cents on the dollar, as opposed to 79 cents nationally), but thanks to the legislation, “The inequities that have plagued our state … are slowly being resolved with this kind of bill,” Governor Brown said.

It’s not as simple as passing one bill, though. Even with the Fair Pay Act, “even if we reduced all of that to zero, we’d still have a very large gap,” Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, told The New Yorker. Much of the remaining gap has to do with industries with highly paid employees who are willing to work long, inflexible hours (think men in financial or legal professions). The difference, according to Goldin, could be eliminated by ditching the “premium pay” of these employees. That’s unlikely to happen — but even changes like those touted by Sheryl Sandberg, who encourages more women to “lean in” and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who calls for more family-friendly workplaces, may not be the solution. “What is needed are changes in how jobs are structured and remunerated, enhancing the flexibility of work schedules,” Goldin said. The Fair Pay Act may address pay inequality, but doesn’t “reform industries or the workforce as a whole.” They do, however, give women more control over their financial security and encourage transparency about wages.

Read the full story at The New Yorker.

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