Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Invisible Hand Just Groped Me!

Most people seem a bit more conciliatory (in comments here and here) toward Roberts' stance against equal-pay/equal-work than I did. The general argument is that so long as we're talking about different jobs that require similar educational levels (as opposed to two people doing the exact same thing), then we should defer to the invisible hand's assessment of their "actual" worth rather than relying on judicial determination.

If it were that simple, I'd be in that camp too. But the problem is that I don't think you can divorce the issue of female pay from lingering sexism in American modes of the thought. It remains true that "woman's work" is devalued in American culture (when it is paid at all), females often constitute "invisible labor" that is just assumed to be available at all times. Formal antidiscrimination laws allow us to remedy the most egregious manifestations of this (such as unequal pay for the same exact job), but it does nothing where the jobs are different and have been laced with gender-based tropes that positively or negatively effect their value.

Is it possible that all "female jobs" would still be worth less than "male" ones if both were stripped of their sexual tenors? Possibly. But the problem is we have absolutely no idea. However, at best, the invisible hand would seem to indicate randomness--that is, if we've truly transcended sexism, then "similar" formerly male and female jobs might not all pay the same, but there wouldn't be a discernible pattern where one is consistently worth more than the other.

The argument that women are paid less because of pregnancy and such also doesn't hold water. First of all, it makes at least as much sense that the labor would be worth more because it is scarcer--assuming that these studies are adjusted for hours worked (which seems elementary), the built-in absences mean there are, on average, fewer women available for the same quantity of work (since there isn't anything that shows female jobs require less productivity than their male equivalents), and thus the reduced supply should drive prices up. But more importantly, this reifies one of the key points made by radical "second wave" feminists like Catherine MacKinnon--it acts like motherhood and pregnancy should be seen as freebies worth nothing--a devaluation if I've ever seen one.

Also, riffing off what PG says, I still think that the equal pay/equal work stance is more controversial than the opposition to Wallace. Again, this isn't because I think Wallace is less defensible, indeed, considering I'm a church/state zealot I'm probably one of the biggest supporters of Wallace there is. Like PG, I consider myself to be a social liberal and economic moderate. However, my generic line of thought is basically the following: If you asked the average American the following two questions:
1) Woman are paid an average of 60 cents for every dollar a male makes. Do you think that the government should try to reduce this disparity?

and

2) Alabama tried to reincorporate prayer in school by passing a law allowing voluntary, silent prayer during a mandatory "moment of silence." Do you think this is unconstitutional?

I think far more persons would fall on Roberts' side on the latter question than the former. Hence, I consider the former to be more "radical," notwithstanding my stringent objections to the latter.

PS: I'm not entirely alone. Suburban Guerilla also seized upon the equal pay issue for specific condemnation. Kevin Drum just wants to know what's so much more radical than this that the Bush administration refuses to release the memos containing it.

4 comments:

blueeyes said...

If it were that simple, I'd be in that camp too. But the problem is that I don't think you can divorce the issue of female pay from lingering sexism in American modes of the thought. It remains true that "woman's work" is devalued in American culture (when it is paid at all), females often constitute "invisible labor" that is just assumed to be available at all times.

And I'd agree with you, IF that was the actual point of Robert's opinion. Even back then, he was too wussy to complain about the concept of comparable worth. All he could gather the strength to bitch about was that a judge was picking the value of different professions, even to the length of ignoring experts in the field. Does that sound reasonable to you?

PG said...

There is lingering sexism, but you don't engage my point about the vaulting increase in pay for nurses (and to a lesser degree, even for teachers). Service professionals are becoming increasingly important to our society, and we now have to pay them accordingly. Part of the underpayment of traditional "women's professions" was due to the oversupply of labor; because an intelligent woman was permitted only to be a nurse or a teacher, not a surgeon or a CEO, there were too many of them competing for jobs and the market undervalued their work. Now that women, albeit still somewhat restricted by lingering sexism -- I have friends whose parents didn't support their college education because "it's a waste to educate a woman, she'll just get pregnant and married" -- can go into any job, there's an undersupply for jobs like nursing and teaching and wages are rising accordingly. I believe in some government regulation of the market, but in this case I think it's actually beginning to work properly as we reduce the barriers to men and women entering the jobs they prefer. (And also use legislative measures like FMLA to reduce the career burden on women -- and men, as in Nevada v. Hibbs -- when they engage in necessary but unpaid work such as caring for family members.)

As for whether the average American thinks the government should redistribute income, see welfare reform, popularity of. I bet even female truck drivers, much less male ones, would be loath to see their wages reduced in order to equalize them with receptionists'.

Russell said...

Have you taken into consideration this contradictory view?

stutefish said...

It's often been said that women are less competitive than men, motivated by other things than exceeding the performance and rewards of their peers.

Could this also be a factor? That women, predisposed to avoid competition and conflict, don't press their salary negotiations (and possibly even their job performance) as hard as their male counterparts?

I wonder if women make 40% less than men in part because they're 40% less likely to force the issue the way a man would.