Sex discrimination in employment is so pervasive that a wide range of approaches will be required to break its hold. Encouraging women to enter traditionally male jobs in order to integrate the occupations is a valuable long-term goal. However, as a significant first step we must acknowledge the value of traditionally female jobs.
A 1979 National Academy of Sciences report on job evaluation concluded that the mere fact of identifying a performance as done by a woman results in lower evaluation and compensation. therefore, "predominantly female jobs are likely to be undervalued relative to predominantly male jobs in the same way that women are undervalued relative to men." Opponents of pay equity reflect this fundamental bias.
The disparity between male and female wages has deep historical roots. In the Bible the valuation for a male was 50 shekels of silver, for a female 30 shekels (Lev. 27:1-4). In the 1840s, the Advocate complained, "It is a fact universally admitted that the ordinary rate of wages for female labor is unjust and oppressive," and that "men have monopolized almost every field of labor . . . women ae thus limited to a few employments, hence these are overstocked with laborers."
In the 1980s occupational segregation is still a serious problem. The Women's Bureau reported that of some 420 occupations listed in the 1950 census of occupations, women were concentrated in about 20, a proportion that has changed little in three decades.
Market forces not the answer
Those who argue that women should move out of traditionally female jobs assume that market forces will correct the pay scales. Although nurses have been in short supply for many years, the labor market has not responded with higher wages and better working conditions as it has for engineers, because different markets exist for male and female labor. Assuming parents, teachers, employers, government agencies and television fully supported all efforts toward job equality, the most optimistic advocates of this position must admit that it will take at least two generations to integrate the occupations.
Also, those who would shift women out of traditionally female jobs overlook the value of those jobs to society. To ask women who work as teachers, librarians, or secretaries to women who work as teachers, librarians, or secretaries to leave their jobs and find male jobs that pay more is a sexist premise. Nurturing and service-oriented occupations are as essential to society as business, building trades, and other traditionally male activities.
In November 1984 Linda Chavez of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission stated that the idea of comparable worth "is very much against the grain of what the women's movement stood for, the 20 years." But the truth is that women's efforts to achieve pay equity in this decade are part of a much older struggle to pay women fair wages for their work.
In World War I and II the War Labor Board supported the principle of equal pay for women and performed job evaluations to establish fair wage rates for men and women in industry. Advocates of equal pay often used the phrase "equal remuneration for work of equal value."
In 1947 two identical bills were introduced in Congress to provide equal pay for women, but they were never passed. They defined as unfair the payment of wages to women at a rate less than that established for men: 1) for work of comparable character on jobs the performance of which requires comparable skills, and 2) for comparable quality and quantity of work on the same or similar operation.
Advocates argued that wage rates should be based on job content rather than on sex. Then as now business and government officials opposed pay equity as too expensive. In response Wayne stressed that we cannot continue to specify certain classes of workers and say, "You have the obligation to subsidize the public by taking lower wages." The National Association of Manufacturers assured Congress that "the major part of the job of eliminating inequitable wage rates differentials based on sex has been accomplished and is going forward on a voluntary basis and without federal legislation."
The limits of "equal pay"
When the Equal Pay Act was finally passed in 1963, the concept of equal pay was reduced to the very narrowest terms: equal pay for equal work in the same job. Since that time women workers have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers and renewed their demand for redress of all wage inequities. Thus, pay equity became a national issue in the 1980s. It is one of basic fairness. Businesses and government agencies throughout the country have acted to evaluate women's jobs and have taken steps to bring their pay scales up to those of men who do work at comparable levels of complexity, responsibility, and skill. However, far more effort will be required to achieve wage justice for women.