Scientists recently did an experiment regarding equal pay with Capuchin monkeys, and the results were interesting – and obvious. The Capuchin who had been underpaid with a piece of cucumber instead of with a grape for performing exactly the same task repeatedly threw it at the experimenter in protest.
Go, Capuchin monkeys!
As an article by Kasey Edwards in Daily Life notes, the monkey’s demand for equal pay for equal work appeared to be a natural instinct, but it is difficult for women to negotiate their wages when they don’t know if they are being paid less for the same work.
Unlike grapes and cucumbers distributed in clear plastic containers in full view of the monkeys, paychecks for humans come in sealed envelopes, and most employers either explicitly prohibit discussions of pay or discourage employees from disclosing wages to their coworkers. It’s difficult to challenge unfair pay practices when a female worker has no idea what her male coworker sitting across the hall is making.
Studies show that in workplaces where the rules of wage determination are concrete women are as likely as men to negotiate their salaries. But women still come out of these negotiations with less, even when their resumes are similar.
Pay secrecy isn’t the only thing making it difficult for women to challenge unfair pay. Other factors include persistent occupational segregation and the devaluing of jobs held predominantly by women.. Many of our cultural attitudes reinforce occupational segregation – from a very young age girls are encouraged to play with toys that promote a set of skills that are undervalued in occupational terms. Toys marketed for girls encourage them to cook, shop, and take care of children; while toys marketed for boys encourage them to build, create, and use their imaginations. But some girls are fighting back. Take the 8-year-old girl who, this week, complained to Hasbro in a video that the company’s marketing of Easy Bake Ovens to little girls and tools to little boys reinforces the idea that girls bake and men work, and started a Change.org petition to change that. We ought to follow this girl’s lead and redouble our efforts to end occupational segregation.
The Capuchin monkeys experiment is a reminder that when we aren’t conditioned early on to think of certain jobs as “women’s work” and inherently worth less, and when we know what our coworkers are being paid, we can act on our most primary instincts telling us that equal work deserves equal pay. It’s also a reminder that we need to put in place conditions that will make it possible for women to ask the necessary questions to learn when they are being paid less without fearingretaliation, so that they have a true opportunity to negotiate for higher pay. That’s what the Paycheck Fairness Act would do. Pay transparency would give women a fair shot at standing up for ourselves and (metaphorically) throwing back the cucumber we’re given when everybody else is receiving a grape for doing the same work.