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

George E. Johnson, Gary Solon

NBER Working Paper No. 1472
Issued in September 1984
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1472

Published: 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.

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