Comparable Worth

What does Comparable Worth mean?

Comparable worth is the idea that women and men should receive equal pay for work which requires equal or comparable responsibility, skills, and benefits. Currently, wage issues are generally decided by supply and demand. For example, a truck driver may receive more pay than a telephone operator because there are fewer truck drivers and a higher need in the marketplace for that skill.

Proponents of comparable worth would argue, however, that pay differences are currently less about market forces and more about discrimination, which they believe is illustrated by the fact that occupations dominated by female workers are paid less than comparable male-dominated jobs. They also would argue that companies and businesses should rely less on market driven forces and should instead evaluate jobs to determine their worth.

Opponents of comparable worth have argued that comparable worth policies could have negative effects on the efficiency of businesses and commerce and eventually lead to reduced employment opportunities for women.

Comparable worth policies are not meant to address unequal pay for equal work, or discriminatory hiring or promotion. Many of these issues have previously been addressed with legislative action such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Comparable worth proponents argue that the issue of comparable worth is much broader and is needed to increase pay for occupations predominately performed by women.

Do eroded barriers makes comparable worth unnecessary?

Many question whether comparable worth policies are necessary. Many would argue that if women want more money they should simply leave undervalued occupations and move into higher valued ones. Historically, this has been difficult for women who may have been barred from entering nontraditional occupations, but in the last fifty years barriers have eroded, allowing female workers entry into a host of different jobs.

Another argument made is that unequal pay does not necessarily indicate discrimination. Women often leave the workforce to care for their families. Women also have the primary responsibility for caring for children and for this reason may not have invested in certain types of vocational schooling or training. Women may also seek employment which has working conditions which are flexible or more conducive to their family demands.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Specific instances of discrimination are neither easily identified nor easily remedied, because the widespread concentration of women and minorities into low-paying jobs makes it difficult to distinguish discriminatory from nondiscriminatory components of compensation."

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