U.S. Census data from 2015 show a dramatic wage gap between men and women in median annual pay: American women earn, on average, only 79 cents for every dollar that men make. If time is money, what if women chose to work only 79 percent as long as their male colleagues?
That question is the simple premise behind the 79percentclock.com, a tool created by the National Partnership for Women and Families and MTV’s “Look Different” campaign that calculates the appropriate wage-adjusted working hours for American women of various ethnicities.
For a white woman working a 9-to-5 job, the wage-adjusted workday lasts until 3 p.m., 75 percent of a standard eight-hour day. For Hispanic and black women, the disparities are greater. Women in these demographics make only 55 cents and 60 cents, respectively, for every dollar that men earn for similar work. These figures generate workdays that end at 1:24 p.m. for Hispanic women and 1:48 p.m. for black women.
MTV and NPWF partnered in the campaign, which mailed roughly 400 actual clocks to Fortune 500 CEOs, celebrities, and activists. Shonda Rhimes, Gloria Steinem, and Marissa Mayer were among the recipients of the wage gap clocks. Rhimes and Steinem both tweeted support for the initiative.
The campaign has also created a website with a digital version of the clock that allows women to calculate how long they should work based on their typical workday and their ethnicity. The site features a range of other resources, graphics, and metrics, including a ranked list of all 50 states by gender wage gap. Louisiana and Utah have the worst gaps, at 35 cents and 33 cents per dollar, while New York and the District of Columbia topped the list with gaps of 13 cents and 10 cents.
Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, advised MTV on the policy issues and research studies relevant to the issue of gender-based pay quality. “The 79 percent number is known, but people don’t always consider the consequences. Reducing the median American income by $10,700 for women translates into 83 weeks of food, or 11 months of rent, or nine years of birth control,” she told The Daily Beast.
Any statistical analysis of such a complex issue faces many potential objections to its methods and results. Perhaps the true causes of wage disparity are a subtle combination of factors: industry, education level, prior experience, job position, race, region, or something else entirely. But even after controlling for such confounding variables, Shabo said, the wage gap between men and women persists. “If you hold everything else constant and there is still a gap, our assumption is that this reflects gender,” she said.
The 79 percent figure is also an average—it doesn’t mean that the incomes of specific men and women will necessarily reflect this disparity any more than statistics on the average height of American men and women can guarantee the stature of your neighbors. But it does indicate that with sufficiently large and representative data sets this pattern eventually emerges.
The goal of making actual clocks was to give concrete embodiment to an abstract issue. “We wanted a physical item to make it tangible, to actually manifest the idea,” MTV’s Ronnie Cho told The Daily Beast. The clock is not available for public purchase—perhaps the profits would not be distributed equitably.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, first introduced in 1997, would make wages more transparent, prevent retaliation by companies against employees who raise gender-based wage discrimination issues, and require employers to show that any wage discrepancies reflect legitimate business qualifications rather than gender. The bill passed the House of Representatives in 2009, but it has repeatedly failed to win support from Senate Republicans. It was most recently defeated in April 2014 by a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Sometimes even the companies and organizations that support pay parity for men and women still struggle to achieve perfect transparency. When asked whether MTV itself keeps internal statistics on wage equality by gender, a spokeswoman said that while they do track the numbers, they don’t share them externally.