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Remedying "Unfair Acts": U.S. Pay Equity by Race and Gender


  • Jane Lapidus
  • Deborah Figart


Case studies in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. have found that pay equity (or comparable worth) has reduced the gender-based wage gap substantially, and results of research on the gender composition of jobs have been used guiding pay equity implementation. But, in general, the racial composition jobs remains overlooked in the literature and in public policy. We extend previous work on eliminating the wage penalty of employment in female-dominated occupations to estimating the potential effect of adopting comparable worth to alleviate race- as well as gender-based wage discrimination. First we report the negative impact of racial-ethnic and female composition of jobs on pay in the U.S. Correcting for this form of wage discrimination, we find that implementing comparable worth would appreciably narrow the race- and gender-based wage gaps and significantly reduce the percent of workers earning poverty-level wages, especially among women of color. Close to 50 percent of women of color and 40 percent of white women currently earning less than the federal poverty threshold for a family of three would be lifted out of poverty. Second, we show that, in addition to the effects of occupational concentration, being a woman, an African-American, or a worker of Hispanic origin negatively and significantly affects pay. Not every type of wage discrimination is alleviated by a pay equity policy, which is why activists have also supported anti-discrimination and affirmative action policies for women and people of color.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane Lapidus & Deborah Figart, 1998. "Remedying "Unfair Acts": U.S. Pay Equity by Race and Gender," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(3), pages 7-28.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:4:y:1998:i:3:p:7-28 DOI: 10.1080/135457098338293

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong & Rudy Fichtenbaum, 1993. "Black-white wage differential: The relative importance of human capital and labor market structure," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 21(4), pages 19-52, March.
    2. Bergmann, Barbara R, 1971. "The Effect on White Incomes of Discrimination in Employment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 79(2), pages 294-313, March-Apr.
    3. Orazem, Peter F & Mattila, J Peter, 1990. "The Implementation Process of Comparable Worth: Winners and Losers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(1), pages 134-152, February.
    4. R. G. Gregory & R. C. Duncan, 1981. "Segmented Labor Market Theories and the Australian Experience of Equal Pay for Women," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(3), pages 403-428, April.
    5. Ehrenberg, Ronald G & Smith, Robert S, 1987. "Comparable-Worth Wage Adjustments and Female Employment in the State and Local Sector," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(1), pages 43-62, January.
    6. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    7. Morley Gunderson & W. Craig Riddell, 1992. "Comparable Worth: Canada'S Experience," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 10(3), pages 85-94, July.
    8. Marlene Kim, 1997. "The Working Poor: Lousy Jobs or Lazy Workers?," Macroeconomics 9712002, EconWPA.
    9. Lynda J. Ames, 1995. "Fixing Women's Wages: The Effectiveness of Comparable Worth Policies," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(4), pages 709-725, July.
    10. Marlene Kim, 1997. "The Working Poor: Lousy Jobs or Lazy Workers?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_194, Levy Economics Institute.
    11. Barry T. Hirsch & Edward J. Schumacher, 1992. "Labor Earnings, Discrimination, and the Racial Composition of Jobs," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 27(4), pages 602-628.
    12. Deborah Figart, 1997. "Gender as More Than a Dummy Variable: Feminist Approaches to Discrimination," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 55(1), pages 1-32.
    13. Marianne A. Ferber & Helen M. Lowry, 1976. "The Sex Differential in Earnings: A Reappraisal," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 29(3), pages 377-387, April.
    14. Randy albelda, 1985. ""Nice Work If You Can Get It": Segmentation of White and Black Women Workers in the Post-War Period," Review of Radical Political Economics, Union for Radical Political Economics, vol. 17(3), pages 72-85, September.
    15. Johnson, George & Solon, Gary, 1986. "Estimates of the Direct Effects of Comparable Worth Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1117-1125, December.
    16. O'Neill, June & Brien, Michael & Cunningham, James, 1989. "Effects of Comparable Worth Policy: Evidence from Washington State," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 305-309, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rose Brewer & Cecilia Conrad & Mary King, 2002. "The Complexities and Potential of Theorizing Gender, Caste, Race, and Class," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(2), pages 3-17.


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