12/03/2012 07:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gender Pay Gap Is Unacceptable, Monkeys Demonstrate

What do monkeys have to do with the gender pay gap? More than you might think.

Women don't always ask for raises or take credit for their work. For capuchin monkeys, this evidently isn't a problem.

Making its way around the Internet is a video clip from psychologist and primatologist Frans de Waal's April 2012 TED talk on moral behavior in animals shows that these primates understand payment inequality -- and have no qualms in demanding what's rightfully theirs.

De Waal and psychologist Sarah Brosnan discovered this through a study they designed to test how monkeys respond to concepts of unfairness and justice. They gave two monkeys in adjoining cages the simple task of handing a pebble to a research assistant. The assistant rewarded each monkey with a treat each time it completed the task successfully. First, both monkeys were given a piece of cucumber as their reward, and both seemed satisfied with this. However, when one monkey began receiving a "better" reward -- a grape -- the other monkey immediately became outraged and rejected the cucumber the assistant offered. The second monkey recognized a pay gap and wasn't having it.

Female bloggers noted the implications the second monkey's behavior may have for human pay inequality, specifically how to remedy the fact that the average woman still earns 18 percent less than the average man worldwide. Kasey Edwards wrote an essay about it in Australia's Daily Life headlined, "The video every woman needs to watch." Lindy West of Jezebel interpreted the findings of the study, which appeared in the September 2012 issue of the journal Social Justice Research: "That monkey would never collaborate in its own oppression. That monkey knew that if its monkey-friend got a grape for doing the stupid pebble trick, it deserved a grape too. It's only fair. No question."

American women consistently earn less than their male counterparts. In 2011, a report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that the gender wage gap for American working women of all ages was 82.2 percent -- an all-time historical high, up from 64 percent in 1960. According to a 2012 report from the American Association of University Women, the pay gap starts right out of college, and a Payscale.com survey found that the gap expands dramatically with age.

Some claim that the gender gap doesn't exist, or that it's actually a "motherhood pay gap," but the fact that childless women and recent graduates experience a gender pay gap seems to contradict those claims. Even female entrepreneurs, who write their own paychecks, take home 76 percent of what their male counterparts do, Forbes reported.

The question then is what women are doing about it. Are they taking the second monkey's lead enough? For years, researchers believed that "women don't ask" -- that women's salaries suffer mainly because they don't ask for better compensation. But a recent study reported in The Huffington Post indicated that women may actually be more likely than men to negotiate their salary -- if they are explicitly told they can do so. In other words, women ask if given permission.

Kasey Edwards summed up that hesitation and the regret she feels around it: "I could have done with some of that monkey’s unfailing self-belief and refusal to accept the scraps out of life."

No need to settle for a piece of cucumber when you know you, like the person next to you, deserve the grape.

[H/T Jezebel]