ArticlesVolume 17, Number 3 (2008)

The Equal Rights Amendment: Then and Now


Far from a dead letter, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is currently pending in both houses of Congress. When Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) reintroduced the ERA in the Senate on March 27, 2007, he particularly stressed the economic disparities faced by women and the importance of a national effort to address them. Likewise, the principal co- sponsor in the House of Representatives, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)–a proud relation, through marriage, of feminist Alice Paul who drafted the original ERA in 19233-stated that “[w]omen are under- represented in government and business, earn less than men, and are nearly¬†twice as poor in old age. It is time to stop stalling and finish what we started 84 years ago.”

The data cited by Representative Maloney are well known. Women make up a small fraction of government positions relative to their absolute numbers in the population. As of January 2008, there were sixteen women in the U.S. Senate, seventy women in the U.S. House of Representatives, and seventy-four women holding statewide elective executive offices. These figures include, among others, eight governors, four attorneys general, eleven state treasurers, and one railroad commissioner. Less than one-quarter of state legislators are women. Women also lag behind men in corporate representation, as women held only 14.8% of all Fortune 500 board seats in 2007 and only 15.4%-a decrease from 2006-of corporate officer positions. Not surprisingly, the gender wage gap persists. According to the most recent analysis, the median weekly earnings ratio of women’s to men’s wages was 80.2 in 2007, and the ratio of women’s to men’s annual earnings was 76.9 in 2005. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research observed that the median weekly earnings ratio has “hovered around 80.0 since 2003,” the median annual earnings ratio has remained “virtually unchanged from 2001,” and “[p]rogress in closing the gender wage gap has slowed considerably since 1990.” Finally, the institute also observed that “older men outearn older women almost two to one,” and¬†“[o]lder women are almost twice as likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) government assistance as older men.”