Pay Equity

Women Can’t Just Work Harder

Do you get paid what you’re worth? If you are a woman living in the United States, you might not be. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn substantially less than men.1 In fact, a 2003 study showed that female salaried workers earned 77.6 cents for every dollar that male salaried workers made. For every five days a male works, a female labors for 7 days to earn the same amount.2

The gender gap in earnings between men and women widens even further if race and time are factored in the equation. B lack women earn 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Hispanic women earn only 52 cents of that dollar.3 Also, over the course of her lifetime, a woman makes even less. During the prime working years from the ages of 26 to 59, women make a total of only 38% of what men make during that same time frame.4

Problems arise from this gap, especially for families. Many families today depend on the income of both parents in order to survive. In 2000, only 29.2% of married-couple families existed in which only the father worked.5 The burden of financing a household now falls increasingly on the shoulders of women. In addition to performing unpaid labor as mothers, wives, and community and church members, women operate in a labor system that often compensates them unfairly for their time.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 helps ensure that a woman will be paid the same wages as a man, providing they work the same job and have identical qualifications and seniority.6 While this policy deals with bold, undeniable discrimination against women in the workplace, it does not address the systematic undervaluing of positions typically occupied by women, i.e. “women’s jobs.” Wages in female-dominated professions, such as nursing, are lower than wages in male-dominated professions, such as janitorial services.7 Nursing requires an individual to acquire extensive training as well as to work in an often physically and mentally taxing environment. So why pay nurses less? The statistics mentioned above suggest that nurses are paid less simply because women’s jobs are undervalued.

One possible solution to this injustice lies in creating Comparable Worth laws. The objective of Comparable Worth, or Pay Equity, is to create a pay system promoting equal pay for jobs of comparable value. Under this system, a job’s value is determined through analysis of specific criteria covering a broad range of factors.8 Factors evaluated include job-related skills and knowledge, interpersonal skills, responsibility and accountability, and working conditions.9 A point value is then assigned to each job based on the evaluation. Jobs with equal or near equal point values are considered to have comparable worth. A library director in a large city, for instance, ranks within five percent of a police captain.10

There are many arguments against Pay Equity.11 Opponents often argue that a comparison of two unrelated jobs, despite similarities, would be highly subjective and possibly unfair. Also, the implementation of a comparative wages system could be costly to companies and could ultimately result in job loss, particularly among women. Another argument is that pay equity laws may lead to government wage setting. Others say that the gap is smaller if “age, education, occupation, number of years in the workforce, and experience.”12 Perhaps the most widely argued point, however, is that women often leave the workforce to have and raise children, thus lessening their value to a company.

Proponents of Pay Equity have countered these accusations. On the issue of subjectivity, they respond that voluntary job evaluation systems are already widely used by employers for pay setting and that all systems used for determining pay are subjective. On the second point, advocators insist that data simply does not support the theory that Pay Equity would be a significant burden that results in job loss. Thirdly, Pay Equity bills propose that companies, not the government, set wages. Government agencies would only intervene to investigate and correct discrimination complaints. Finally, proponents argue that the majority of women are returning to work after childbirth. According to labor statistics in 1998, 64.9% of mothers with children under the ages of six had jobs.13 Also, if a system of pay equity were established, more women might choose to work since they would have as much earning power as their husbands.

Advocates have reasons for believing systems of pay equity can work. For more than two decades, the state of Minnesota has paid state employees according to a pay equity plan.14 As a result, undervalued jobs were gradually granted fair wages, with only 10% of the adjustments going to men. The gender gap in earnings narrowed by nine percent while costs and job loss were minimal. Similar results have occurred in Quebec, Canada, where law requires both public and private sector employers to set wages based on comparable worth.

Pay Equity offers a possible solution to the complicated problem of pay discrimination against women in the workplace. The concept has rallied strong support and evoked heavy opposition. Whether Pay Equity be the right solution or not, it still provides evidence that people are working toward equality for everyone. Advocators of equality in earnings understand that if one group is allowed to bear the burden of discrimination, all groups are liable to have that burden placed upon them. By allowing discrimination to occur simply because a solution is hard to obtain, we put at risk not only our futures but our children’s as well.

If you would like to know how your state ranks in pay equity and how long it will take for your state to reach pay equity, the National Committee on Pay Equity has a list. Washington, D.C., ranks first as having the smallest wage gap, and it is calculated to close as soon as 2006. Utah, New York and Tennessee, on the other hand, are three of many calculated to close their gaps after 2050.


  1. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 2004. The Gender Wage Ratio: Women’s and Men’s Earnings. October. 1 Nov 2004. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  2. Richards, Cindy. 2001. Maine Becomes First State Requiring Pay Equity. Women’s eNews, April. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  3. National Committee on Pay Equity. 2001. What the Opposition Says. October. . (accessed November 1, 2004).
  4. Stephan, Rose. 2004. Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Long Term Earnings Gap. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. III. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  5. U.S. Dept. of Labor. 2001. Both Spouses Work in Most Married-Couple Families. MLR: The Editor’s Desk. April 24. ( (accessed November 1, 2004).
  6. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 1997. The Equal Pay Act of 1963. January 15. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  7. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 2004. The Gender Wage Ratio: Women’s and Men’s Earnings. October. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  8. Brill, Alison. 1995. Improving Compensation for Library Workers: Strategies. Chicago: American Library Association.
  9. Josephine, Helen. 1982. Pay Equity Action Strategies and Case Summaries. Chicago: American Library Association.
  10. Watkins, Bonnie. 1992. Pay Equity & Minnesota Public Libraries: Results of a Legislative Approach. Chicago: American Library Association.
  11. National Committee on Pay Equity. 2001. What the Opposition Says. October (accessed November 1, 2004).
  12. United States Senate Republican Policy Committee. 1999. Gore-Daschle “Paycheck Fairness” Pays Off Trial Lawyers, Invites Wage Controls. April 5. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  13. U.S. Dept. of Labor. 1999. Labor Force Participation of Fathers and Mothers Varies with Children’s Ages. MLR: The Editor’s Desk, June 3. (accessed November 1, 2004).
  14. National Committee on Pay Equity. 2004. Two Progressive Models on Pay Equity: Minnesota and Ontario. (accessed November 1, 2004).

Casey Schacher is the ALA-APA Intern.