By Ann Belser
Patricia Arquette’s Academy Award acceptance speech last Sunday, calling for ecological sanitation in the third world and equal pay for women, came off sounding a bit like a woman who has a few too many bumper stickers on her Prius.
But her closing comments on pay inequality achieved her apparent goal of starting a conversation — setting off criticism from commentators on the the right who said equal pay for equal work has been the law since 1963 and from those on the left who said equal pay is mainly an issue for wealthy white women.
“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” Ms. Arquette said, clutching her Oscar statuette for Best Supporting Actress for the movie “Boyhood” while women in the audience cheered.
While the Equal Pay Act was indeed passed a half-century ago, studies show that women are still paid less than men in the U.S. in nearly every occupation.
“During 2013, median wage earnings for female full-time workers were $706, compared with $860 per week for men — a gender wage ratio of 82.1 percent,” according to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based policy group.
Earlier this month, in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Goldie Hawn, another Academy Award winning actress, said the reason that a sequel to “First Wives Club” was never made was that the studio, which had offered lower salaries than they would have if men had been playing the roles in the first movie made in 1996, did not increase the offer for a sequel.
“Had three men come in there, they would have upped their salaries without even thinking about it,” she was quoted as saying.
Hacks into the Sony computer system confirmed that the problem persists in Hollywood.
But income inequality is not just an issue for upper income earners, such as Hollywood actresses. In occupations predominantly held by women, females are still paid less than their male counterparts.
A survey by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 94.7 percent of secretaries and administrative assistants are women, yet women in those jobs make just 87.1 percent of the wages paid to men.
Registered nurses are by and large women (88.8 percent), but women are paid 87.9 percent of what men make in that field. Even female elementary and middle school teachers are paid 91.4 percent of what their male counterparts make.
Customer service representatives, an occupation in which 66 percent of the jobs are held by women, comes the closest to parity. Women make 96.4 percent of what men make.
In the highest paid occupations, the divide widens. Women who are chief executives make 79.9 percent of what men make and women who are software developers make 78.9 percent, according to the survey.
“At the top, the wage gap is bigger,” said Ariane Hegewisch, the study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
On Wall Street, she said, women tend to be pushed into less lucrative roles on trading floors, selling less profitable securities and getting smaller clients because they lack the access to the top levels.
“The key issue on Wall Street is who do you know? Who do you have access to?” Ms. Hegewisch said. “There is intensive networking going on.”
Women are also disproportionately represented in the lowest paid occupations. Irene Tung, a senior policy researcher for the National Employment Law Project in New York City, said women make up two-thirds of workers in occupations in which employers can pay less than minimum wage.
Women make up 82 percent of home care workers, which is a job that is outside of the minimum wage laws, and 63.2 percent of restaurant servers are waitresses.
“Historically, women are willing to do these jobs,” Ms. Tung said.
There is even a disparity in job titles — men are predominantly janitors and building cleaners (72.6 percent), with median weekly earnings of $517; while women represent 82.5 percent of maids and housekeepers, with median earnings of $406 a week.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that men and women in the same work place be paid equally for the same work. Women alleging violations of the law can complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or file a lawsuit against the company.