Living Wages, Equal Wages: Gender and Labor Market Policies in the United States

By Deborah M. Figart; Ellen Mutari et al. | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

Living wages, equal wages, and the value of women's work

Throughout history and across cultures, women have always worked, and their work has been essential in providing food, clothing, and shelter for their families. That work has taken many forms, from gathering wild food to churning butter, from selling handicrafts in the marketplace to working in a textile factory, from assisting executives to caring for the sick, from selling real estate to designing web pages and computer software. But women's work was not always work for a wage. In fact, at the beginning of the twentieth century, waged work was viewed as an essential part of men's, but not women's, identities.

Wage labor, in contrast to owning a farm or being an independent artisan, was once viewed as undesirable and analogous to slavery. In the nineteenthcentury United States, the growth of industrialization and the influx of landless immigrants meant that an increasing proportion of people, especially men, came to rely on working for a wage as a means of provisioning. Bread-winning came to be viewed no longer as subjection to a master, but rather as a means to economic independence. By the turn of the twentieth century, working men joined unions and struggled with employers to achieve a family wage, defined as a wage sufficient to support a dependent wife and children. 1

As masculinity was redefined to incorporate and legitimate wage labor, a family structure based upon a male breadwinner and female homemaker was idealized. The fact that some women also worked for wages became increasingly problematic. Women were largely excluded from wage labor unless their families had no other means of providing for their needs. This escape clause in the idealized vision of the male breadwinner family actually accounted for a substantial amount of economic activity in the formal and informal economy. Daughters in immigrant families, widows, and other poor women, including a higher proportion of African American than white women, participated in waged work. Other women continued their work in farming or handicrafts, took in boarders, did laundry at home, and performed a variety of other income-generating activities. This was market-oriented work, but it took place on the periphery of capitalist production.

Gradually over the twentieth century, women's productive work came to be incorporated into the industrialized economy. What was once made in the

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Living Wages, Equal Wages: Gender and Labor Market Policies in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Series Editor'ss Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Part I - Laying the Groundwork 1
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - Waged Work in the Twentieth Century 16
  • 3 - Two Faces of Wages Within the Economics Tradition 34
  • 4 - The Third Face 52
  • Part II - Wage Regulations in the Twentieth Century 65
  • 5 - An Experiment in Wage Regulation 67
  • 6 - A Living for Breadwinners 91
  • 7 - Job Evaluation and the Ideology of Equal Pay 120
  • 8 - Legislating Equal Wages 143
  • Part III - The Century Ahead 177
  • 9 - Living Wages, Equal Wages Revisited 179
  • 10 - Applying Feminist Political Economy to Wage Setting 208
  • Notes 221
  • References 231
  • Index 252
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