The Surprising Origins of the Gender Pay Gap

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There was a brief moment 150 years ago when it looked like women might get equal pay for equal work. But they didn’t—and that set the standard for decades to come. On this episode of the Pay Check, Rebecca Greenfield revisits a Civil War-era sex scandal that set the stage for the pay gap debates we're having right now. She talks to Claire Suddath about how a century of rules and laws saying what women can and can’t do have made it easy for companies to pay women less. 

One big reason the gender pay gap still exists is because of a phenomenon called "occupational sorting"— the idea that some jobs are dominated by women, and those jobs often pay less. That didn't just happen. Claire and Rebecca sort through how history determined the market value for women. Then Claire talks with Lilly Ledbetter, whose fight for gender equality at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. seemed like an open and shut case—until a loophole in the law denied her justice.  

Want to hear more? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. The Pay Check is a six-episode deep dive into the big, expensive, global mystery of why, in 2018, women still earn less than men. 

To contact the author of this story: Rebecca Greenfield in New York at

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