According a report by Jacob Passy, a cancelled stamp featuring Rosie the Riveter saying "We Can Do It!" was inspired by the woman who portrayed the image and died Saturday at 96. While Rosie the Riveter has become an indelible symbol of feminist activism, the woman who inspired the famous image may have unknowingly been the first generation who were targeted by the same gender wage gap that women experience today.
Naomi Parker Fraley, who is believed to be the inspiration behind the wartime poster, was created by Pittsburgh-based artist J. Howard Miller, and researchers believe that he based the poster on a photograph of a woman factory worker that was widely published in magazines in 1943.
The image originally served as a rallying cry for women to take on jobs in factories and shipyards, as men served in the military overseas during World War II. But the real Rosies across America during the 1940s may have made matters more difficult for women today inadvertently, said Joanna Krotz, author of “Being Equal Doesn’t Mean Being the Same.” “Unions were trying to make sure that women did not usurp men’s pay while our guys were overseas fighting for us,” Krotz said.
Companies wanted to ensure that women in the workforce would not depress wages for men when they returned home from war. Some employers would make multiple women undertake a task that would typically be completed by one male worker, says the report.
Though government agencies proclaimed otherwise, there was a significant gap in the pay men and women received in the post-World War II era. And that gap persists today. In the immediate post-war years, women workers only earned roughly 60 cents for every dollar a man made. The median annual wage for female workers in 1950 was $1,579, as compared with $2,702 for men, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2017 dollars, that’s $14,417 and $24,671 respectively.
Similar disparities played out in specific professions: Women in manufacturing made a median annual wage of $1,524 ($13,914 when adjusted for inflation), while men earned $2,635 ($24,059 adjusted for inflation), or 58% more than women.
Between 1943 and 1945, polls showed that 47% to 68% of married women workers wanted to keep working after World War II. Matters have gotten better for women today, but there’s still room for improvement, says the report. In 2014, women who worked full time on average made roughly 83 cents for every dollar a man earned, according to a January 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Rosie the Riveters, in today’s workforce, aren’t as well off: They only earned barely 71 cents on the dollar of what men were paid, per the BLS report. In the immediate post-war years, women workers only earned roughly 60 cents for every dollar a man made. Today, it’s 83 cents on the dollar.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all, says the report, is that the biggest wage gap is seen among personal financial advisers; women advisers make just over half what their male colleagues earn, according to an analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In other fields, women are closer to achieving true wage parity. Women in food service, office administration and construction jobs earned more than 90 cents for every dollar a man made. Overall though, concludes the report, the gender pay gap worldwide isn’t expected to close for another century, according to the World Economic Forum.