Comparable-Worth Adjustments: Yes

Article excerpt

Sex discrimination in employment is so pervasive that a wide range of approaches will be required to break its hold. Encouraging women to enter traditionally male jobs in order to integrate the occupations is a valuable long-term goal. However, as a significant first step we must acknowledge the value of traditionally female jobs.

A 1979 National Academy of Sciences report on job evaluation concluded that the mere fact of identifying a performance as done by a woman results in lower evaluation and compensation. therefore, "predominantly female jobs are likely to be undervalued relative to predominantly male jobs in the same way that women are undervalued relative to men." Opponents of pay equity reflect this fundamental bias.

The disparity between male and female wages has deep historical roots. In the Bible the valuation for a male was 50 shekels of silver, for a female 30 shekels (Lev. 27:1-4). In the 1840s, the Advocate complained, "It is a fact universally admitted that the ordinary rate of wages for female labor is unjust and oppressive," and that "men have monopolized almost every field of labor . . . women ae thus limited to a few employments, hence these are overstocked with laborers."

In the 1980s occupational segregation is still a serious problem. The Women's Bureau reported that of some 420 occupations listed in the 1950 census of occupations, women were concentrated in about 20, a proportion that has changed little in three decades.

Market forces not the answer

Those who argue that women should move out of traditionally female jobs assume that market forces will correct the pay scales. Although nurses have been in short supply for many years, the labor market has not responded with higher wages and better working conditions as it has for engineers, because different markets exist for male and female labor. Assuming parents, teachers, employers, government agencies and television fully supported all efforts toward job equality, the most optimistic advocates of this position must admit that it will take at least two generations to integrate the occupations.

Also, those who would shift women out of traditionally female jobs overlook the value of those jobs to society. To ask women who work as teachers, librarians, or secretaries to women who work as teachers, librarians, or secretaries to leave their jobs and find male jobs that pay more is a sexist premise. Nurturing and service-oriented occupations are as essential to society as business, building trades, and other traditionally male activities. …