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Pay Differences Between Women's and Men's Jobs: The Empirical Foundations of Comparable Worth Legislation

  • George E. Johnson
  • Gary Solon

Civil rights legislation of the 1960s made it illegal foran employer to pay men and women on different bases for the same work or to discriminate against women in hiring, job assignment, or promotion. Two decades later, however, the ratio of women's to men's earnings has shown little upward movement. Furthermore, major sex differences in occupational distribution persist with predominantly female jobs typically paying less than predominantly male jobs. This negative relationship between wage rates and femaleness of occupatiop has stimulated efforts, in both the judicial and political arenas, to establish "comparable worth" procedures for setting wage rates.This paper etimates the relationship between wages and femaleness of occupation and finds that it is indeed negative even after controlling for relevant worker and job characteristics. The magnitude of the relationship, however, implies a surprisingly small effect for a comprehensive comparable worth policy. The estimates indicate that, even if comparable worth succeeded in eliminating this negative relationship, the disparity between mean male and female wages would be reduced by well under ten percent of its current magnitude.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 1472.

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Date of creation: Sep 1984
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Publication status: published as Johnson, George and Gary Solon. f"Estimates of the Direct Effects of Comparable Worth Policy," American Economic Review, Vol. 76, No. 5, Dec. 1986, pp 1117-1125.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1472
Note: LS
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  1. 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.
  2. Ronald G. Ehrenberg & Robert S. Smith, 1987. "Comparable Worth in the Public Sector," NBER Working Papers 1471, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Brown, Charles, 1980. "Equalizing Differences in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 113-34, February.
  4. Welch, Finis, 1974. "Minimum Wage Legislation in the United States," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 12(3), pages 285-318, September.
  5. Ronald Oaxaca, 1971. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," Working Papers 396, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  6. James H. Grant & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1980. "Labor Market Competition among Youths, White Women, and Others," NBER Working Papers 0519, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Killingsworth, Mark R, 1987. "Heterogeneous Preferences, Compensating Wage Differentials, and Comparable Worth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 102(4), pages 727-42, November.
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