Comparable Worth and Wage Discrimination: Technical Possibilities and Political Realities

Comparable Worth and Wage Discrimination: Technical Possibilities and Political Realities

Comparable Worth and Wage Discrimination: Technical Possibilities and Political Realities

Comparable Worth and Wage Discrimination: Technical Possibilities and Political Realities

Excerpt

The concept of comparable worth--a policy of equal pay for work of comparable value--has the evocative power to move the former director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to call it "the issue of the eighties" and a federal judge to say that it is "pregnant with the possibility of disrupting the entire economic system of the United States of America." The AFL-CIO has passed a resolution in its favor, and the Business Roundtable has published a book opposing it. The Carter administration proposed enforcement regulations that would have mandated comparable worth for federal contractors; the Reagan administration rejected these regulations as too controversial.

The pattern of occupational segregation and its associated salary inequities are now well documented. Recent research by economists and sociologists indicates that the wage difference between men and women is only partly explained by worker or job characteristics (see Chapter 2). The remaining wage difference, about half of the total, is associated with the sex of the people doing the work. In fact, the sex of the workers performing a job is the best single predictor of the compensation for that job, surpassing in importance education, experience, or unionization.

Low wages are an issue not only for women, but for their families as well. Among families headed by working women, over one-third have incomes below the poverty level. As unemployment continues to be a problem, many married couples are discovering that the income of the wife, while adequate as a "supplement," is not sufficient to prevent economic disaster for the family when the husband becomes unemployed. The earnings ratio of women to men has shown no improvement over the past thirty years, and lower earning power during working years translates into poverty after retirement.

Efforts to improve women's earnings by integrating women into men's jobs have met with many obstacles. Only a few women have benefited, while most remain in traditional women's work. Men have not shown much enthusiasm for integrating women's jobs. To the degree that wages are determined by the sex of co-workers, it is obvious why many women seek men's jobs; it is equally obvious why men want to keep women out, why some women's professions are eager to attract men to their fields, and why men assiduously avoid women's work.

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