Obama’s State of the Union Address and Mad Men: Fact-Checking the Comparison

Do today's workplace policies really belong in an episode of the TV show?

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Michael Yarish / AMC

The phrase #madmen was trending on Twitter last night (as MSNBC points out), but not because the show is back on the air. Instead, #madmen became about something much more than a TV show when President Barack Obama made reference to the 1960s-set drama during last night’s State of the Union address. The President mentioned the show in reference to ’60s-worthy workplace policies that “belong in a Mad Men episode” — policies that disadvantage women, whom he cited as making 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.

The line is obviously meant to be a sweeping reference to the idea that today’s employment policies have not caught up with modern ideas about gender equality — not a literal side-by-side numbers thing — and the show is an apt pop-culture touchstone for comparison with mid-20th century America. Still, it’s worth a look: What exactly did those policies look like in the ’60s?

  • “A woman deserves equal pay for equal work,” said the President. In 1960, women made just 60 cents for every dollar men  made, according to Census Bureau data.
  • “She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job,” Obama added. In 1960, only 19% of married women with young children had jobs, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of those who were employed, 63% who got pregnant quit their jobs. In 2008, only 22% quit their jobs due to pregnancy.
  • And finally, “a mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child… a father does, too.” In the early ’60s, about 16% of female workers got paid maternity leave, according to Census data. By 2008, that number had leaped to 51%.

So it turns out that if today’s workplace policies appeared in a Mad Men episode, Sterling Cooper would have been pretty much the most progressive ad agency of its time. (Not that that’s saying all that much — when it comes to this topic, the ’60s were longer ago than you might imagine.)

There’s no question that Mad Men works as a reference point and, as TIME’s James Poniewozik writes, the show’s themes (progress, gender, social norms) are widely relevant to the State of the Union’s concerns. The 77% gender wage gap, by the way, is about the same as it was in 2001, but somehow it wouldn’t have packed the same oomph if Obama had cited Scrubs.

(MORE: Willie Robertson vs. Mad Men: Battle of the State of the Union TV Symbols)


Today the women from the "Mad Men" era are members of the group that controls most of the nation's wealth (and has better health and lives longer) and will soon control even more.

"Over the next decade, women will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and be the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in our country’s history. Estimates range from $12 to $40 trillion. Many Boomer women will experience a double inheritance windfall, from both parents and husband." She-conomy.com http://www.she-conomy.com/facts-on-women

Here's one of countless examples showing that some of the most sophisticated women in the country choose to earn less while getting paid at the same rate as their male counterparts:

“In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/03/26/bil10326.htm 

A thousand laws won't close that gap.

In fact, no law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap - tinyurl.com/74cooen), not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not the 1991 Glass Ceiling Commission created by the Civil Rights Act, not the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the thousands of company mentors for women, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is another feel-good bill that turned into another do-nothing law (good intentions do not necessarily make things better; sometimes they pave the way to a worse condition).... Nor will a "paycheck fairness" law work. 

That's because women's pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

See “The Doctrinaire Institute for Women's Policy Research: A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality”http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/the-doctrinaire-institute-for-womens-policy-research/



After visiting your website, I invite you to visit my blog at the link above.

Now that you've examined -- from your view -- how women have been treated in the world of work, here's how men today are still treated in the world of children:

"In movies, dads not treated as equals to moms"


"Wives Belong at Home with the Kids"