Desert and Wages*

Owen McLeoda1

a1 Yale University

Women tend to earn less than their male colleagues. Furthermore, women tend to earn less than men who hold jobs that are nominally different but relevantly similar to their own. Advocates of ‘comparable worth’ protest these facts. Their protest sometimes takes this form: Those differences in pay between men and women are undeserved. The argument for this claim is simple. Some facts are relevant to the wage one deserves for performing a given job; some are not. In the vast majority of cases, the argument continues, gender is not relevant to the wage one deserves; relevant are, say, the skill, responsibility, and working conditions required by the job. When jobs are comparable with respect to these facts, those who work in them deserve equal pay. Therefore, women and men who work the very same jobs deserve equal pay; likewise for women and men whose jobs are nominally different but relevantly similar.


* A version of this paper was presented to an audience at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I am grateful to members of that audience for their comments. I am especially grateful to Fred Feldman for his extensive comments on this paper, and for discussion on this and other desert-related topics. Thanks also to Jack Hanson for comments, kindness, and much else besides.