Back in 1999, President Bill Clinton announced the commitment of $14 million to establish an “Equal Pay Initiative.” Clinton explained his intention to take a proactive step to close the pay gap between men and women. At that time, women earned about seventy-five cents for every dollar earned by men.
Comparable worth as a concept has always been controversial because it seeks to replace the economic market place with government regulations. Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba question the need for a comparable worth law. They point out that it is already illegal to pay unequal wages to equally qualified men and women who do the same job. When this disparity does occur, women sue and almost invariably they win. Further, these analysts claim, when researchers control for age, experience, education, occupation, and position, the earnings of women and men are already about the same.
Critics of comparable worth also claim that the seventy-eight cent-to-the-dollar ratio found today is based on a fairly crude comparison among full-time workers: all women’s salaries versus all men’s salaries. The reality is, they claim, that the average woman’s salary is 78 percent of the average man’s because the average woman has less work experience and is more likely to choose a job that gives her the flexibility to combine work and family and to take time out of the work force to bear and raise children. Rather than discrimination, these critics conclude, the disparity reflects somewhat the choices made by women and men.
In the last twenty-five years, the gender pay gap has changed only slightly. As critics see it, the only way to eliminate the average pay gap would be to enact laws requiring equal pay for jobs that are similar but different. This is, of course, the policy of “comparable worth.” But the policy of comparable worth, while enacted in some countries, has not won support from courts all across the United States.
Advocates of comparable worth claim that what is needed is to correct market flaws that reflect discrimination against women. In many cases, supporters point out, a job is devalued simply because it is performed mostly by women.
Furchtgott-Roth, Diane & Christine Stolba, “‛Comparable Worth’ Makes a Comeback,” New York Times (February 4, 1999).
If a law were passed requiring the market economy to provide “gender equality,” do you think similar claims would be made by other categories of people who earn relatively less money? Why or why not?
Do you think the idea of comparable worth amount to saying that “women can’t make it on their own?” Why or why not?