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Equal pay for women

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Equal pay for women

Equal pay for women is an issue regarding pay inequality between men and women. It is often introduced into domestic politics in many first world countries as an economic problem that needs governmental intervention via regulation. The Equal Remuneration Convention requires its over 160 states parties to have equal pay for men and women.

Gender pay gap

Main article: Gender pay gap

The median wage for women is lower than the median wage for men in most countries[1][2][3] . There is a general scholarly consensus that the majority of the differences between men and women's pay can be attributed to differences in the choices men and women make regarding their careers.[4][5] There is disagreement over what amount of the unexplained gap is due to explicit discrimination against women, and how much of it can be attributed to remaining differences between men and women's choices.[4][6] There is also disagreement over whether the choices that women and men make regarding their careers are themselves a product of discrimination or social pressures.

For example a study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor, concluded that "There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4 percent, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent."[6] The study also concluded that while in principal more of the wage gap could be explained by differences between the groups, the data that would be needed to account for additional factors was not available.

A recent study by the American Association of University Women on the wages of college educated women one year after graduation identified discrimination as "one potential contributor to the unexplained wage gap".[4][5] The study also argued that discrimination and cultural gender norms play a role in determining the different choices that men and women make regarding pay.

Situation by country


Main article: Gender pay gap in Australia

Under Australia's old centralised wage fixing system, "equal pay for work of equal value" by women was introduced in 1969. Anti-discrimination on the basis of sex was legislated in 1984.[7]

In November 2011, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced efforts by the national government to improve salaries of the 150,000 lowest-paid workers in Australia, roughly 120,000 women, by contributing A$2 billion over the next 6 years.[8]


In Canadian usage, the terms pay equity and pay equality are used somewhat differently than in other countries. The two terms refer to distinctly separate legal concepts.

Pay equality, or equal pay for equal work, refers to the requirement that men and women be paid the same if performing the same job in the same organization. For example, a female electrician must be paid the same as a male electrician in the same organization. Reasonable differences are permitted if due to seniority or merit.

Pay equality is required by law in each of Canada’s 14 legislative jurisdictions (ten provinces, three territories, and the federal government). Note that federal legislation applies only to those employers in certain federally regulated industries such as banks, broadcasters, and airlines, to name a few. For most employers, the relevant legislation is that of the respective province or territory.

For federally regulated employers, pay equality is guaranteed under the Canadian Human Rights Act.[9] In Ontario, pay equality is required under the Ontario Employment Standards Act.[10] Every Canadian jurisdiction has similar legislation, although the name of the law will vary.

In contrast, pay equity, in the Canadian context, means that male-dominated occupations and female-dominated occupations of comparable value must be paid the same if within the same employer. The Canadian term pay equity is referred to as “comparable worth” in the US. For example, if an organization’s nurses and electricians are deemed to have jobs of equal importance, they must be paid the same. One way of distinguishing the concepts is to note that pay equality addresses the rights of women employees as individuals, whereas pay equity addresses the rights of female-dominated occupations as groups.

Certain Canadian jurisdictions have pay equity legislation while others do not, hence the necessity of distinguishing between pay equity and pay equality in Canadian usage. For example, in Ontario, pay equality is guaranteed through the Ontario Employment Standards Act[10] while pay equity is guaranteed through the Ontario Pay Equity Act.[11] On the other hand, the three westernmost provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan) have pay equality legislation but no pay equity legislation. Some provinces (for example, Manitoba) have legislation that requires pay equity for public sector employers but not for private sector employers; meanwhile, pay equality legislation applies to everyone.


In Ireland, the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act was passed in 1974 and came into force in 1977.


In Italy equal pay for women is guaranteed in Article 37, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution, which states[12]

"Working women are entitled to equal rights and, for comparable jobs, equal pay as men. Working conditions must allow women to fulfil their essential role in the family and ensure appropriate protection for the mother and child."

United Kingdom

Main article: Equal Pay Act 1970

The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament to prevent discrimination as regards to terms and conditions of employment between men and women, following the 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike. A similar act to these was passed in France in 1972. These reflected Article 119 of the original EEC Treaty, which started: "Each Member State shall in the course of the first stage ensure and subsequently maintain the application of the principle of equal remuneration for equal work as between men and women workers."

In 1978, despite the passage legislation to promote equal pay, women’s relative position in the UK was still worse than in Italy, France, Germany, or the Benelux countries in 1972.[13]

The Equal Pay Act was repealed but its substantive provisions were replicated in the Equality Act 2010.

The Supreme Court case of Birmingham City Council v Abdulla said that employees can claim equal pay up to six years after leaving their job.[14] Leading legal experts have suggested that this could open the floodgates of litigation, with the public sector bearing the brunt of the impact.

United States

In the United States, the median income for women is roughly 77% of the median income for men.[15] Economists expect that in a free market, managers would prefer to hire less costly women workers, forcing men to compete with women on wages and balancing out the wage disparity.[16] On the other hand, an economic system where the government controls wages would also balance out the wage disparity. Therefore, the gender gap in wages cannot be fully attributed to the economic system.

Several studies of women in the legal profession reveal persistent gaps in partnership numbers at major American Law Firms. Despite the fact that women have graduated from law schools in equal numbers for over twenty years, only 16-19% of law firm partners are women.[17] [18] Likewise, only 51% of women polled were satisfied with their compensation, compared to 71% of men.[19]

Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Legislation passed by the Federal Government of the United States in 1963 made it illegal to pay men and women different wage rates for equal work on jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility and are performed under similar working conditions.[20] One year after passing the Equal Pay Act, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII of this act, makes it unlawful to discriminate based on a person’s race, religion, color, or sex.[21] Title VII attacks sex discrimination more broadly than the Equal Pay Act extending not only to wages but to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment. Thus with the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, an employer cannot deny women equal pay for equal work; deny women transfers, promotions, or wage increases; manipulate job evaluations to relegate women’s pay; or intentionally segregate men and women into jobs according to their gender.[22]

Since Congress was debating this bill at the same time that the Equal Pay Act was coming into effect, there was concern over how these two laws would interact, which led to the passage of Senator Bennett’s Amendment. This Amendment states: “It Shall not be unlawful employment practice under this subchapter for any employer to differentiate upon the basis of sex . . . if such differentiation is authorized by the provisions of the [Equal Pay Act].” There was confusion on the interpretation of this Amendment, which was left to the courts to resolve.[23]

Washington and Minnesota State Actions

In Washington, Governor Evans implemented a pay equity study in 1973 and then another in 1977.[24] The results clearly showed that when comparing male and female dominated jobs there was almost no overlap between the averages for similar jobs and in every sector, a twenty percent gap emerged. For example, a food service worker earned $472 per month, and a Delivery Truck Driver earned $792, though they were both given the same amount of “points” on the scale of comparable worth to the state.[25] Unfortunately for the state, and for the female state workers, his successor Governor Dixie Lee Ray failed to implement the recommendations of the study (which clearly stated women made 20 percent less than men).[26] Thus in 1981, AFSCME filed a sex discrimination complaint with the EEOC against the State of Washington. The District Court ruled that since the state had done a study of sex discrimination in the state, found that there was severe disparities in wages, and had not done anything to ameliorate these disparities, this constituted discrimination under Title VII that was “pervasive and intentional.”[27] The Court then ordered the State to pay its over 15,500 women back pay from 1979 based on a 1983 study of comparable worth.[28] This amounted to over $800 million. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned this decision, stating that Washington had always required their employees’ salaries to reflect the free market, and discrimination was one cause of many for wage disparities. The court stated, “the State did not create the market disparity . . . [and] neither law nor logic deems the free market system a suspect enterprise.”[29] While the suit was ultimately unsuccessful, it led to state legislation bolstering state workers’ pay. The costs for implementing this equal pay policy was 2.6% of personnel costs for the state.[30]

In Minnesota, the state began considering a formal comparable worth policy in the late 1970s when the Minnesota Task Force of the Council on the Economic Status of Women commissioned Hay Associates to conduct a study. The results were staggering and similar to the results in Washington (there was a 20% gap between state male and female workers pay). Hay Associates proved that in the 19 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, wage discrimination persisted and had even increased over from 1976 to 1981.[31] Using their point system, they noted that while delivery van drivers and clerk typists were both scaled with 117 points each of “worth” to the state, the delivery van driver (a male dominated profession) was paid $1,382 a month while the clerk typist (a female dominated profession) was paid $1,115 a month.[32] The study also noted that women were severely underrepresented in manager and professional positions; and that state jobs were often segregated by sex. The study finally recommended that the state take several courses of action: 1) establish comparable worth considerations for female- dominated jobs; 2) set aside money to ameliorate the pay inequity; 3) encourage affirmative action for women and other minorities and 4) continue analyzing the situation to improve it. The Minnesota Legislature moved immediately in response. In 1983 the state appropriated 21.8 million dollars to begin amending the pay disparities for state employees.[33] From 1982 to 1993, women’s wages in the state increased 10%. According to the Star Tribune, in 2005 women in Minnesota state government made 97 cents to the dollar, ranking Minnesota as one of the most equal for female state workers in the country.

Different Studies and Economic Theories

Economists expect that in free market capitalist economy managers should be eager to hire less costly women workers, thereby making the wage gap disappear.[34] Therefore economists are puzzled why the wage gap persists. One study[35] found that customers who viewed videos featuring a black male, a white female, or a white male actor playing the role of an employee helping a customer were 19% more satisfied with the white male employee's performance and also were more satisfied with the store's cleanliness and appearance. This despite that all three actors performed identically, read the same script, and were in exactly the same location with identical camera angles and lighting. Moreover, 45 percent of the customers were women and 41 percent were non-white, indicating that even women and minority customers prefer white men. In a second study, they found that white male doctors were rated as more approachable and competent than equally well performing women or minority doctors. They interpret their findings to suggest that employers are willing to pay more for white male employees because employers are customer driven and customers are happier with white male employees. They also suggest that what is required to solve the problem of wage inequality isn't necessarily paying women more but changing customer biases. This paper has been featured in many media outlets including The New York Times,[36] The Washington Post,[37]The Boston Globe,[38] and National Public Radio.[39] However, the Independent Women's Forum cites another study that found that the wage gap nearly disappears "when controlled for experience, education, and number of years on the job."[40]

See also


External links

  • OCLC 317650570, 50016270 and 163149563
  • Pay Equity Survey
  • CNN report
  • Read Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports regarding Pay Equity
  • Historic photos and records on the fight for pay equity. Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs. Wayne State University.
  • "Whatever Happened to Equal Pay?" Marxist Essay
  • Pay Equity Group
  • "Is The Wage Gap Women's Choice", Rachel Bondi
  • "The Truth Behind Women's Wages in Mining", Jack Caldwell and Cecilia Jamasmie
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