Field of Science

Obama's first law aims at ending discrimination

The first law Obama signs as President is the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which expands the time workers can sue their employers over discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, or religion.

Lilly Ledbetter discovered after years as a manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber that she was being paid less than her male counterparts. She filed suit and won a jury verdict in 2003. But the lawsuit was deemed invalid because it wasn't filed within six months of when the discrimination began.

The fact that any employees are being paid less than colleagues in the same job based on gender, race, nationality, or religion is reprehensible, and if this law can help people in such situations sue, then I welcome it. Ledbetter being paid less than her male counterparts is unfathomable, and I have wished hard that it was still not occurring in this day and age.

On the other hand, Obama also states that it is wrong that women are generally paid less than men:
"While this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isn't just about her," Obama said. "It's the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn -- women of color even less --which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime."
As far as I understand, this huge difference is not measured between people in the same job, but is a figure of how much all men earn nationwide compared to how much women earn. Unless we expect men and women to have the same jobs, work the same amount of hours per week, take the same amount of time off to have children, and overall work the same number of years in their lives, then it may not be true that "countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime," as Obama said.

At this point I have no doubts that there is wage-discrimination going on still in the United States. That's a disgrace. But I do not think that all of the 22% difference in earnings between men and women can be explained this way. There are plenty of other reasons why men and women would have different jobs, and this will naturally result in different earnings on average.

I will not justify that people are being paid differently in the same jobs, but I would like to be able to explain why men and women overall aren't earning the same amount. Is it rampant discrimination going on on a daily basis? Is it partly because men and women have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses? How large part of these gender differences can be attributed to nature and how much to nurture? Does our culture make boys want different jobs than girls, and how much does this influence the end result of life-time earnings? Is the life-time earning the best measure of success in life, or should we - when talking about salaries - include other benefits and other laws that governs what our rights and responsibilities are, such as alimony, child-support, and visitation rights?

I have many questions but (next to) no answers.


  1. Are you coming here to make an advertisement? I should get paid by you, then.

    (mberenis has some thirty blogs with one post each advertising for this or that. Pretty annoying.)

  2. Bjorn, well you should pat yourself on the back. If you start to get spam, then this mans that your blog is at least getting on enough people's horizon. Soon enough you may have to install a filter!


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