That was John McCain's contention when he refused to support the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and Ezra has a good post today on why the Obama campaign is smart to highlight this issue in a TV commercial. But one thing the ad doesn't do is fully refute the McCain position, which is factually inaccurate. Let's look at educational achievement in the United States broken down by gender.
Women account for 56 percent of the undergraduate student population and 59 percent of the graduate school population. Across all age groups, over half of all the people in the United States with a bachelor's degree or master's degree are women, though men do still make up the majority of Americans with a professional degree or doctorate. Younger generations are moving quickly toward parity.
Does the difference between male and female educational achievement in law, medicine, business, and academia account for the pay gap? No way. The pay gap persists even between women and men doing the same job, for the same number of hours, with the same educational background. That was Lily Ledbetter's situation as a manager at Goodyear Tire. Closing the gap between similarly credentialed women and men doing the exact same jobs would raise women's incomes by an average of $4,000 annually and cut national poverty rates in half. Children would be the primary beneficiaries of such a change.
So why does the pay gap still exist? It's a complicated question, but here are a few factors: Discrimination against women, sometimes because of their greater child care responsibilities. Lack of status and lack of unionization in "pink collar" industries in which working class women are employed (beauty, house cleaning, child care, etc.). Research also shows that women are less likely to ask for raises.