The Comparable Worth Controversy

The Comparable Worth Controversy

The Comparable Worth Controversy

The Comparable Worth Controversy

Synopsis

The well-documented gap between men's and women's earnings has aroused intense debate over the concept of comparable worth, that is, equal pay for work judged to be of equal value. Government, business, labor unions, and the courts have been forced to consider whether workers in dissimilar jobs of comparable worth-measured by such criteria as working conditions, degree of difficulty, and knowledge and responsibility required-should receive equal wages, and how wage adjustments can be implemented.The issue has provoked inflated rhetoric, litigation, and considerable confusion.In this concise study, Henry J. Aaron and Cameran M. Lougy review the conditions that have sparked the debate and unravel the implications of comparable worth for employers in public and private sectors, for labor union agendas and employer-employee negotiations, and for the administrative and and judicial burdens of the nation's courts. The authors conclude with general guidelines for implementing wage adjustments in ways that would not seriously disrupt society or have a major impact on overall economic efficiency.

Excerpt

What, if anything, should be done to close the gap between the earnings of women and men? For those who believe that pay tends to reflect productivity and working conditions, the current pay differential simply reflects the operation of market forces. According to this view, to receive improved relative pay women must choose different lines of work and stay in the paid labor force longer without interruption. Others, however, argue that the relative pay of women is affected significantly by prejudice or tradition and that it should be increased by administrative or judicial action. One method of increasing the relative pay for jobs filled predominantly by women is to adjust wages on the basis of job evaluations. According to this approach, holders of jobs judged to have comparable worth should receive equal pay, whether or not the current market wages are identical.

In this book Henry J. Aaron and Cameran M. Lougy examine the controversy that has arisen around the proposal to adjust wages based on the principle of comparable worth. They conclude that proponents have overrated the potential benefits from such adjustments and that opponents have exaggerated the risks. They are persuaded that women have suffered from labor market discrimination, which accounts for part of the male-female wage gap. But much of this discrimination affects aspects of labor market behavior that even a resolute application of wage adjustments based on comparable worth could not change. Application of comparable worth in the public sector and collectively bargained wage settlements in the private sector could improve the pay of women workers, and there is little evidence that such adjustments would reduce overall economic efficiency. However, efforts to require private-sector employers to implement comparable worth would embroil the courts in numerous administrative disputes, which they would be poorly qualified to settle in volume. the authors propose instead a . . .

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