Essay on Gender and Equality: Equal Pay for Equal Work

Published: 2021-07-12
1921 words
7 pages
17 min to read
Sewanee University of the South
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Application of Equal Pay Act over the last 50 years has seen a significant reduction in the salary gap between male and female workers. However, recent findings show that disparities in pay scales remain a major issue in Americas working population. For instance, a woman who works full-time all year-round earns 10,800 less compared to their male counterparts in jobs that require equal skill and responsibility, and the ratio becomes even wider when Black and Hispanic women are introduced into the equation (US Senate, 2016). Such discrimination denies women the opportunity to make their maximum contribution to the well-being of society. In this essay, I will show how a utilitarian would argue that the financial loss women suffer by receiving a lesser pay outweigh the benefits of paying men more, and thus remuneration scales should be equal. I will then raise the objection that such argument does not account for the possibility that women would choose occupations different from men and this unknown limits the application of a utilitarian reasoning to this topic.

Explanation of the Utilitarian Theory

Utilitarianism is one of those ethical theories that consider the consequences of actions as the fundamental principle of determining whether an act is morally right or wrong. It is based on the notion that actions that realize most good to the largest number of people should be pursued in any given context of human interactions because such actions result in the highest level of happiness (Gandjour, 2007). For example, the driver of a passenger vehicle who prefers to knock off a pedestrian off the road so as to save his passengers may be adjudged from the utilitarian perspective as right as it results in significantly low amount of suffering compared to a scenario where many fatalities occurred among the passengers. English philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill popularized the concept of utilitarianism tough this ethical premise was not new in the study of ethics as earlier scholars (mostly theologians) had laid the foundation out of which Bentham and Mill developed their ideas.

In the notion of consequences, this theory holds that determination as to whether an act is ethically preferred, the good and the bad results of an act must be considered. To adjudge the preferred action as per the utilitarianism view, the good and the bad of the act are assessed to ascertain as to whether such consequences are significant. If consequences are significant, actors must be compelled to follow the preferred ethical manner (Gandjour, 2007).To this end, utilitarianism propagates the idea of universal values that people need to adhere to so as to avoid an occurrence of situations where others live in suffering as a result of the negative actions of fellow human beings.

The notion of utilitarianism was proposed to form an ethical framework upon which the idea of liberal politics was born in the Western world (Robertson & Walter, 2007). It is the preferred ethical theory in economics as it originated from neoclassical welfare theories which placed a lot of emphasis on social justice (Gandjour, 2007).The propagation of this ethical framework came in the wake of economic domination of the poor by the bourgeoisie and the nobility. Therefore, these ethical theorists sought to answer the question of the appropriate ethical behaviors that would lead to a reduction of suffering of people through the concept of social justice.

One of the greatest strengths of utilitarianism is that it fits well with approaches to the issue of public policy and governance in general (Robertson & Walter, 2007).As indicated in the previous paragraphs, the gender compensation disparities that exist in the USs labor market is a major impediment towards a fair and just society. And since the Equal Pay Act is one of the many policy strategies that have been employed to root out discrimination of employees based on their gender, the utilitarian theory is an appropriate tool to argue out this case as it concerns itself with welfare economics, one of the fundamental principles upon which employment and remuneration are anchored.

Application of the Utilitarian Theory to the Issue of Equal Pay for Equal Work

From a utilitarian standpoint, all stakeholders in the labor market should strive to do that which promotes equal compensation for both men and women with similar skills and responsibilities. This position is based on the idea that paying men and women equally is more likely to lessen pain across genders in our society as opposed to the current situation in the labor market where one group receives more employment income than the other (Milli, Huang, Hartman, & Hayes, 2017). To demonstrate the relevance of the of the equal pay across gender to the propositions of the utilitarian idea, benefits of harms of the current status and benefits of the will be explored as well as an illustration on how the elimination of this gap will enhance the overall utility of a change of policy will be given.

Paying women less than men in the same labor market has generated various outcomes that limit the ability of society to realize the most good from its people. Women make a huge contribution to the US economy, and their contribution has significantly increased to record levels over the last 50 years (US Senate, 2016).This upsurge in numbers of women in the labor market results from greater opportunities for women in various sectors of the economy. Today, women make up 49% of the workforce, yet they continue earning less than their male counterparts in nearly every single occupation (Milli et al., 2017).From utilitarian view, such a huge number of the workforce can cripple the entire economy were it to be removed from the workforce. In other words, a society cannot regard women as the engine of the economy on the one hand and as a second-tier labor force on the other and expect that it would develop to meet the aspirations of its people. This discrimination undermines the overall economic well-being of citizens. As John Stuart Mill put it, discrimination does not only constitute a wrong but also places a lot of hindrances to human progress (Milli et al., 2017).

Evidence suggests that several harms are brought about by the unequal pay practices in the labor market. In the US, for instance, half of all households with children below 18 have a mother as a breadwinner. The mother is either single and heads the household or married and provides at least 40% of the couples joint income (Milli et al., 2017).For this reason, inequality in pay is likely to affect the financial obligations that mothers seek to fulfill in family settings since such remuneration arrangement denies women the financial capability to cater for their children effectively as they may wish. This is likely to result in a situation where children fail to access basic needs that are critical for sound upbringing and better future lives. In the end, this would bring more problems to society, an outcome that goes against the principles of utilitarianism.

Gender pay gap affects what women receive as Social Security (SS) income upon retirement. SS income is calculated based on ones earnings throughout their entire work life. Since women have lower pay in general terms during their working life and spend fewer years in paid labor (mostly due to disruptions of motherhood), their pension income is lower compared to that of men (US Senate, 2016; Milli et al., 2017).In most cases, this income is the only source of income for women retirees. As statistics suggest, one in five women relies on SS income as the only source of income in their older age (US Senate, 2016).Such scenario further worsens the situation of women and thus can be termed from a utilitarian perspective that it does not promote social justice which is one of the major avenues of availing happiness to most people in the society.

Unequal pay also affects the amount of money women receive as pension upon retirement. Women are less likely to get income from the conventional pension plans as some are ineligible due to the inability to meet the threshold set out by employers. There are two possible reasons for this disparity. For one, women spend some of their time out of work to attend to children and other family members especially the sick and elderly. Women further perform domestic duties that take some amount of their time which would have otherwise been spent at the workplace (Milli et al., 2017). Given this, a utilitarian would question whether attending to children and performing domestic duties do not contribute to a better society! Secondly, some women work in occupations that do not offer retirement schemes (US Senate, 2016).These factors contribute to lower savings during the working life and eventually reduced incomes after retirement. Lower savings and lower pension incomes mean that older women are more likely to live in poverty. The problem of poverty is further worsened by the fact that women live longer than men and thus have higher needs for money compared to men yet they earn less (Milli et al., 2017).

On the other hand, men benefit greatly from this discrimination. Due to unequal pay structures, men make a median income of $45,292, which is $ 7,904, more than what their women make (US Senate, 2016). This implies that men have more money to put into savings for retirement. The effect of this is that men are more likely to have a quality life in old age. The shorter life expectancy of men further plays into their advantage in the sense that less amount of money is spent on medical bills and other elderly care needs. Moreover, men shoulder more than half of the expenditures of households across the US (Milli et al., 2017). For this reason, their higher pay may be beneficial to the greatest number of people because the money is reinvested back into society in terms of expenditures.

Objection to the Utilitarian Claim

When women choose occupations that do not pay as handsomely as those that men select, a utilitarian argument for equal pay may not answer the question as to whether equality of remuneration would translate to the greatest utility in the society. As evidence suggests, careers women pursue have a significant implication on the relationship of the amount they are paid compared to remuneration of men. For instance, underrepresentation of women in STEM field jobs has been presented as the reason that makes women earn less. In these fields, remuneration packages are more attractive compared to other sectors of the economy (US Senate, 2016).This gap even widens when women of color are considered in the equation. For instance, Hispanic women make up 7% of the workforce but account for a paltry 2% of STEM workers. Likewise, Africa-American women make up 6% of the workers but occupy 2% of the STEM jobs (US Senate, 2016).As such, occupational choices may not necessarily be reflective of social injustice, and this makes the understanding of this problem from a utilitarian perspective problematic. This issue is further explored by the share of women in certain occupations. For instance, the ready supply of workers in female occupations depresses wages thereby making pay lower than male-dominated fields (Boraass & Rodgers, 2003).


Unequal pay for equal work is a major issue in the USs labor market more than 50 years after the enactment of the Equal Pay Act. More specifically, the continued discrimination of women in the workforce goes against the fundamental principles of social justice and thus denies society the opportunity reach its highest level of happiness. In other words, such disparities hinder human progress. Evidently, women make an enormous contribution to the betterment of our society through employment and...

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