The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Women’s Wages

  • J. Rubery
Reference work entry


Women’s average wages are consistently lower than men’s average wages in all countries, even after adjustments for differences in working hours. These lower wages cannot be simply explained by differences in the productivity of women workers, or by the segregation of women into different jobs: they are related to the role of women in the social reproduction sphere, that is to their expected contributions to domestic labour and to family income. However, women’s wages should not be identified as a separate issue; to do so suggests that it is women’s wages that do not conform to a competitive norm and therefore require separate analysis as an anomaly. Women form too large a segment of the labour force for this ‘anomaly’ not to affect the other segment, ‘male labour’, and men’s role in social reproduction has an equal and specific impact on their characteristics as wage labour. There is nevertheless an argument on social and political grounds for singling out women’s wages for special study. Women’s wages are not only low at the average or macro level, but also are consistently lower than men’s at the micro level of the occupation, firm or industry. Women account for overwhelmingly the largest share of low-paid adult workers in the UK, so that ten years after the Equal Pay Act it is still reasonable to talk of a separate set of wages for women to that available to the majority of men.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Rubery
    • 1
  1. 1.