Head-of-Household Pay Denied to Woman Teacher
Sara Anderson’s career began with a lesson on pay inequity: As a woman, she didn’t qualify for head-of-household pay.
Anderson was hired as a teacher after she graduated from college in 1961. New teachers at her school received a starting salary of $3,900 and an extra $500 — more than 12 percent of the base salary — if they were the head of household, Anderson said. Her husband had a semester of school left.
“I pointed out that my husband was still in college so I was the head of household,” she said. “I was told that pay was offered to men only.”
Fifty years later, the idea of a male head of household continues although mothers are the sole or primary source of income in 40 percent of households, according to new Pew research. Anderson said she made the choice to take the teaching job without the head-of-household pay because she had to support her family.
“There was nothing I could do about it because I needed a job. I was very upset about it,” she said. “I was told that a man might have a family to support, so they needed that money more than I did.”
Anderson ultimately only taught one semester, but she has continued to experience gender discrimination. She spent the next 14 years as a stay-at-home mom.
“I didn’t like the way I was treated while I wasn’t working,” she said. “If people asked me what I did, I said housewife. People would just turn and walk away.”
Her experience led Anderson to be a gender equity advocate. She helped push for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1960s and 70s. As such, the amount of the wage gap around that time — women made 59 cents to men’s dollar — sticks out in her mind. She said she was so adamant about passage of the ERA that her three young children supported the cause — as was evident when her youngest came home from school one day.
“She was very mad because she had been asked what words meant and given multiple choices for the answers,” Anderson said. “The word was era. And she said nowhere was there the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I thought, ‘I’ve done my job.’”
Although the situation is certainly better today — women make 77 cents to men’s dollar — Anderson notes that progress is very slow. And the wage gap is worse for women of color and moms. Women today are sometimes still paid less because men might have families to support.
“I’ve always been frustrated with this whole subject,” Anderson said. “That is progress, but it’s slow. It’s just very frustrating to me that it’s not $1 to $1. It should be equal.”
Anderson started her teaching career two years before the Equal Pay Act became law in 1963. AAUW continues to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide a necessary update to the Equal Pay Act. But so far this Congress, the House of Representatives has refused to even consider holding a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act.
“I think everyone would benefit if women were treated more equally, especially the pay,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to get the pay before you get the recognition. Money equals respect. The women won’t get respect until they get paid the same as men are for the same job.”
Anderson said she has many wicked things she would like to say to Congress right now — including her feelings on their inability to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
“I wish the men in Congress would realize that any laws that strengthen the family strengthen the country,” she said. “It’s good for everybody.”