Women’s Work

A federal judge has ruled that a sex-discrimination suit against Wal-Mart Stores can proceed as a class action, which could lead to a huge loss for the megastore. Up to 1.6 million women could join the class action, and at a few thousand apiece it could cost Wal-Mart billions.
Baltimore trial lawyer Peter Angelos made enough from his asbestos lawsuit work to buy the Orioles. Lawyers’ fees in this case could buy the entire American League.
This is not the first big case involving women’s wages. Coke, Home Depot, and Texaco have paid more than $100 million each in such lawsuits.
Now I don’t want to quarrel with any of these decisions. Who knows what went on? How could American courts be wrong? But I call your attention to a larger version of this alleged discrimination, the oft heard claim that women earn, on average, 70 percent of men’s salaries. NBC News this evening cited this figure as a virtual national scandal. Should an Equal Rights Amendment pass, you can bet that lawsuits would follow gigantic enough to make Senator John Edwards dance with anticipation
Any economist worth his or her salt will immediately wonder where this 70 percent number came from and how it would be changed if it accounted for differences in experience, education, difficulty of jobs, and the other factors that affect the demand for a person’s labor. This requires rigorous analysis, not just quoting some data.
But where do you find such analysis? Well, you go to one of my favorite websites, www.iwf.org, the home page of the Independent Women’s Forum. This organization published a report called “Women’s Figures” that challenges the 70 percent shibboleth, and they keep up to date on other such issues, presenting a clear, market oriented analysis in a lively format. Yes, they are conservative women!
Maybe women economists should get a raise!

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3 Replies to “Women’s Work”

  1. The 70% has oft been explained because of elasticity of supply; typically the man is more likely to find a job, and the woman will be ‘forced’ into settling for anything reasonably suitable, in the same location.
    So why doesn’t the wife find her most suitable job, for the highest wage possible, and the man, with more marketable skills, relocate depending on her?
    My intuition tells me that this would the sensible option for couples to maximise their combined wage.

  2. Typically, the wage comparisons are for the same position or similar job description. Why would you want your wife to earn less than her male counterpart for the same work? Maybe you’re advocating for women to join a union because together they could negotiate equal pay for equal work. Sounds very American to me!

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