The wage gap and comparable worth

by James P. Smith

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This paper reviews the reasons that women's wages have remained at approximately 60 percent of men's wages, discusses the outlook for future growth of women's wages, and considers the possible impact of "comparable worth" legislation. The author suggests that the composition of the female work force, whose new entrants and reentrants have predominantly been women with relatively little labor market experience and lower than average education, have held down the average wage of all working women, disguising what would otherwise have been an upward trend in women's wages. He also reports that, in the period between 1920 and 1980, women's wages grew 20 percent faster than men's wages, and projects that they will rise at least 15 percent faster than men's over the next twenty years. Based on these projections, he concludes that other government actions, such as enforcement of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, would be more effective than "comparable worth" legislation in improving women's opportunities in the labor market.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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