Is There Equal Pay For Equal Work? -- By: Christopher Atwood
Is There Equal Pay For Equal Work?
Some Controversial Thoughts On An Uncontroversial Topic
One indicator the government monitors in our society is the “earnings gap” between men and women. Last fall, new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the long rise in median weekly earnings of women employed full time stalled at 75% of men’s median earnings. Having risen from 62¢ on the man’s dollar, full-time women’s weekly earnings had reached 77¢ in 1993, but in 1997 were stuck at 75¢.1 Reminding us of the basic principle of equal pay for equal work, the Christian Science Monitor pointed out that the “real issue isn’t that the numbers are going up or down, but that, 34 years after the Equal Pay Act was enacted, there is still a wage gap.” The bottom line was that women weren’t paid according to “responsibility and talent” but according to a “cultural bias against women workers” that companies needed to combat more vigorously.2
Can We Agree?
At last, a piece of news on which Christians and agnostics, complementarians and egalitarians can agree—or so it would seem. When complementarian Christians deal with controversial issues about men and women in society, we often erect a firewall to our right, by proclaiming that, of course we support equal pay for equal work.3 Curiously absent, though, is any Biblical discussion of the issue. Perhaps a debate went on in the years after equal pay for equal work became law in 1963, but if so, it has disappeared without a trace. Christian ethicists have given little reflection to what the Bible might say on this topic. This lack of debate is curious, since secular conservatives strongly reject the mainstream interpretation of the “60¢ on the dollar” slogans bandied about by feminists. Social scientist and columnist Thomas Sowell has pointed out that “equal pay for equal work” in practice means two quite different things: (1) either equal payment for employees, male or female, whose market value to the employer is equal, or (2) the idea that women, on average, ought to earn as much as men.4 Option 1 is equivalent to option 2 only if the two sexes are in fact equally productive in economic terms as an average of all the thousands of jobs they do. Only then, in an efficient labor market, should women’s median pay equal men’s median pay.
But isn’t it true, argued the Christian Science Monitor, that “companies should value all their employees, women included”? If full-time women don’t earn as much as fulltime men, aren’t compa...
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