In our examination of the regulation of wages in the twentieth century United States, we pay a great deal of attention to the arguments among academics, regulators, and social reformers about the definition of a fair wage for women and men. These arguments reflect differing assumptions about the process of wage setting in general and the setting of women's and men's wages in particular. Rather than assigning priority to one narrow view of wage setting, we have discerned three simultaneous aspects of wages that can be woven together to help build a richer understanding of the politics, process, and meaning of wage setting. We label these (1) wages as a living, (2) wages as a price, and (3) wages as a social practice.
These three concepts articulate three economic and social functions that wages perform within market economies. They also depict alternative wage-setting processes. We do not claim that these three aspects exhaust the possible understandings of wages from different standpoints. Rather, we recognize that our framework is bounded by our historical and cultural position, by our focus on U.S. experience and labor market policy, and by the initial questions that we chose to ask. Despite these caveats, we propose that a framework that examines the dynamics of living, price, and social practice provides a more nuanced and complex interpretation of gendered labor markets than traditional economic theory. Further, we maintain that wages are set through the interaction among the dynamics we label as living, price, and social practice.
In this chapter and the next, we introduce our theoretical framework for the analysis of wage regulations in Part II of the book. We explain the concepts of wages as a living and a price, and illustrate their development in the writings of economists. This will not be an exhaustive history of theorizing on wages, but an illustrative discussion of the major currents informing these differing views. This survey is followed in Chapter 4 by an examination of the contributions of contemporary feminist writers to an understanding of gendered economic outcomes, highlighting recent developments in practice theory.
While theorizing wages as a price is most associated with neoclassical economics, and wages as a living with Marxism and social economics, it