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Friday, August 19, 2005
Comparable Worth
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:22 pm

It would seem that a number of folks (for example: here, here, and here-and some others I have seen, but did not make note of) are unaware of what the term “comparable worth” means.

Comparable worth DOES NOT MEAN that men and women should be paid the same in the same job. It means that men and women in DIFFERENT, but somehow “comparable,” positions should be paid identically. For example, if most of the groundskeepers at a particular business are males and most of the janitors are female, but the groundskeepers make more than the janitors, then equalization should occurs in pay-that is the essence comparable worth.

Here’s a simple definition from Britannica online

Comparable worth is the principle that men and women should be compensated equally for work requiring comparable skills, responsibilities, and effort. The concept, also referred to as sex equity or pay equity, was introduced in the 1970s by reformers seeking to correct inequities in pay for occupations traditionally held by men and women. Following Congressional passage of the Equal Pay Act (1963), which required that men and women receive “equal pay for equal work,” wages for occupations in which most working women were concentrated continued to lag behind those for comparably skilled but predominantly male occupations. Efforts to correct such discrepancies through legislation have met with skepticism from those who object that application of the principle interferes with the operation of a free market and that the worth of an occupation is not absolute and cannot be compared.

One may find this to be a laudable concept. However, it is a controversial one, as it is radically difficult to determine exactly what “comparable skills, responsibilities, and effort” means. Exactly how does one operationalize those concepts, and any such operationalization will be debatable. What really takes more effort, being a janitor or a groundskeeper? How do we know? Maybe the groundkeepers are harder to find, and that’s why they get paid more, among any number of other potential reasons.

Regardless of one’s position, it needs to be made clear: being against “comparable worth” is not the same thing as being opposed to men and women being paid the same for the same job.

Understand: if Roberts was in favor of women getting less than a man for the exact same job, I would find such a position offensive. However, the notion that rectification of pay inequity between the genders requires a construct which somehow provides equivalencies across jobs is simply problematic, in my opinion. First, it vitiates basic market forces, which dictate price, including the price of labor. Second, it is difficult to accomplish and is lawsuit-fodder extraordinaire.

Also: Professor Bainbridge has a post on this subject (i.e., comparable worth) from a few days ago that I missed, but is worth reading.

Likewise, Amy Ridenour has a lengthy post on this topic.

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