Selfish reasons white men should be interested in equal pay

So I was reading an economic history book by Claudia Goldin (again), and in her chapter on Political Economy of Gender, she talks about why unions have traditionally endorsed equal pay for women (and minorities).

Essentially, the idea is that if employers are allowed to offer women and minorities lower wages, then that is what they will do.  The wages will drop and white men will be unable to find employment or will have to accept the lower wage.  The underlying assumption is that women and minorities are doing the same work as the white men, but are willing to accept lower wages for it.

If men’s rights activists really believe that the world is a meritocracy, and white men are actually the best, then insisting that women be paid the same as men makes perfect sense.  If wages are the same for all workers doing the same work, then, under those assumptions, employers will only hire white men and their wages will stay high.  Women will work at less productive jobs at lower wages.  (Of course, there’s a bunch of new experimental research out that shows that low wages decrease productivity in spot markets– folks are rediscovering the efficiency wage argument!)

These arguments are a bit simplistic and mostly ignore general equilibrium effects, but it is very interesting how the rhetoric around equal pay for equal work has changed.  And how blue-collar white men supported equal pay for their own selfish interests, but now they no longer seem to.

Who benefits from paying women less?  Not the men married to them who would benefit from higher incomes (except, maybe, in terms of balance of power in the household).  Not the men working along-side them.  Employers benefit.

11 Responses to “Selfish reasons white men should be interested in equal pay”

  1. becca Says:

    I think you underestimate the allure of maintaining relative balance of power among those with little power.

  2. bogart Says:

    “Who benefits from paying women less?”

    It seems to me “we all” benefited a lot from paying women less when that behavior was coupled with denying women to access to all careers except 2 (obviously I am oversimplifying) — nursing and teaching K-12. That gave “us” a large, captive pool of really talented people (as well, of course, as of less talented people — see: large pool. But presumably market competition could manage that part) for two really (societally) important jobs at really affordable wages. Woohoo!

    Of course a lot of that structure (constrained career opportunities, not to mention lower wages) remains — but to nothing like the extent it once existed.

    My DH worked for many years in a role that was either (a) a-computer-geek-in-a-library or (b) a-data-geek-in-a-stats-department, depending on the university (i.e. some housed the position in one unit and some in the other). My sense (based, to be fair, on anecdata) is/was that the (a) group made MUCH less money than the (b) group even though they had the same training and skills and their own genders were not necessarily those of the larger group of which they were a part (with (a) being units that contained mostly women trained as librarians and (b) being units that contained mostly men trained as statisticians).

  3. chacha1 Says:

    All I can say is, I am glad to be in the last third of my so-called career, and not just starting out. And I’m really grateful that my first job in law was in a firm that consistently promoted from within (rare). Since staffers were all female, females were the administrators. It made a difference.

  4. Weekly Reader 37: Coming Home Edition – Tangerine Wallpaper Says:

    […] Selfish reasons white men should be interested in equal pay […]


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