Happy Equal Pay Day!

Equal Pay Day is the unhappy, unofficial holiday we continue to celebrate due to persistent wage gap in the United States and other parts of the world. Equal Pay Day was first observed in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity to raise awareness about the persistent wage gap. Each year, a Tuesday in April is selected to represent how far into the current year a woman must work to earn what a her male counterpart earned in the previous year.

According to US Census data, as of 2015 women working full time in the United States were paid, on average, just 80% of what men were paid. The wage gap has been narrowing since the 1960s, but with the rate of change between 1960 and 2015 women are not expected to reach pay equity with men until 2059! While that seems far away, the picture may be even more grim. The slow progress toward wage equity has become even slower still since 2001. If this slower rate of change persists, women will not reach pay equity until 2152!1 While the wage gap within medicine may be smaller than that of other professions, with academic female physicians earning approximately 90 cents to the male dollar, this averages to approximately $20,000 less per year and will have a major impact on a woman’s earnings throughout her career.2, 3

Pay inequity threatens the economic security of women and their families. Today, 40% of mothers with children under the age of 18 are the primary or sole wage earners for their families.4 These families, including the men among them, are at an economic disadvantage purely due to the gender of the breadwinner. Because women earn less than men during their lifetimes, they collect less in Social Security and pensions after retirement. This leaves them, and their families, with less economic security as they age. Additionally, more women live below the federal poverty level than men.   In fact, the poverty rate among working women could be cut in half simply by increasing their level of pay to that of their male colleagues.5

So, what can be done? Your actions can be two-fold. First, you must advocate for yourself and encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same. Become an expert in negotiation (this post by Dr. Becky Parker is a good place to start) and don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve. Second, advocate both at the federal and state level for measures to secure equal pay and protect women and families.   The American Association of University Women has a fantastic “Two-Minute Activist” list that can help you find ways to get involved in your area.

In the words of Elizabeth Warren, Equal Pay Day is a national day of embarrassment. “The game is rigged against women and families, and it has to stop.”6


  1. American Association of University Women. The Simple Truth: About the Gender Pay Gap. Spring 2017 Edition
  2. Freund et al. “Inequities in Academic Compensation by Gender: A Follow-up to the National Faculty Survey Cohort Study.Acad Med. 2016 Aug; 91(8):1068-73. 27276007
  3. Jena et al. “Sex Differences in Physician Salary in US Public Medical Schools.JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Sep 1;176(9):1294-304. PMID 27400435
  4. Glynn S. Breadwinning Mothers, Then and Now. Center for American Progress. 2014
  5. Hartmann et al. How Equal Pay for Working Women would Reduce Poverty and Grow the American Economy. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 2014
  6. Fang, M. “Elizabeth Warren: Equal Pay Day ‘Is A National Day Of Embarrassment’” The Huffington Post. 12 April 2016