04/09/2013 01:02 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

13 Countries That Make America's Gender Pay Gap Look Embarrassing

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy’s Equal Pay Act was signed into law with the express purpose of ensuring that women get paid equally for equal work. Yet half a century later, on Equal Pay Day, the gender pay gap in America not only persists, but is doing so to a much larger degree than in many other countries.

The U.S. -- where women make just four-fifths that of their male counterparts, according to a recent study -- lags behind a number of other countries where the gap is much smaller for women without children, according to a December analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That list includes Belgium, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Norway, Germany, Mexico, France, Slovenia, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Australia and Ireland.

Why is the U.S. so far behind when it comes to ensuring working women are paid the same as their male colleagues? One reason has to do with pay disparity more broadly. In many European countries the difference in earnings between low-wage and high-wage workers is smaller than in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

American women also are more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and 27 percent of the wage gap can be explained by this phenomenon, according to the Center for American Progress. In other words, it’s not just that women aren’t being paid equally for equal work -- it’s that they’re doing different work that pays less.

The recession and recovery haven't helped. Public sector jobs, a common avenue for women looking to earn middle-income wages, were cut during the recession and even in the recovery. Those jobs often have been replaced by low-paying private sector jobs like retail and service, pushing female wages further down.