The Equal Pay Act is a labor law that prohibits gender-based wage discrimination in the United States. Signed by President Kennedy in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the law mandates equal pay for equal work by forbidding employers from paying men and women different wages or benefits for doing jobs that require the same skills and responsibilities. The bill was among the first laws in American history aimed at reducing gender discrimination in the workplace.
The Equal Pay Act was an effort to correct a centuries-old problem of gender-based wage discrimination.
Women made up a quarter of the American workforce by the early 20th century, but they were traditionally paid far less than men, even in cases where they performed the same job. In some states, female workers were also forced to contend with laws that restricted their working hours or prohibited them from working at night.
Efforts to correct the wage gap escalated during World War II, when scores of American women entered factory jobs in place of men who had enlisted in the military. In 1942, for example, the National War Labor Board endorsed policies to provide equal pay in instances where women were directly replacing male workers.
Three years later in 1945, the U.S. Congress introduced the Women’s Equal Pay Act, which would have made it illegal to pay women less than men for work of “comparable quality and quantity.” The measure failed to pass, however, and despite campaigns by women’s groups, little progress was made on pay equity during the 1950s.