Comparable Worth definition

In the labour market, wages are typically dictated by supply and demand e.g. if there are fewer highly-skilled engineers, those engineers are likely to be paid more. Comparable worth suggests this theory is not applicable when comparing female-dominated occupations with male-dominated occupations, and that the pay differences between the two are due to systematic discrimination against women rather than market forces.

Under a wage system based on comparable worth, employers would set wages based on the ‘worth’ of jobs, which would be determined by evaluation of jobs based on things like responsibility and skills required, rather than market forces. Proponents of comparable worth think that the system would result in higher wages in female-dominated professions and an overall reduction in the pay gap between men and women.

Critics of comparable worth say it would reduce the number of jobs available to women and would also reduce economic progress, with market forces being the most efficient way to determine relative job worth.