What is Comparable Worth?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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Comparable worth is a legal concept that applies to the workplace. Essentially, this concept holds that all jobs or positions that are considered by the employer to be of similar worth must be compensated equally, with no regard to the gender of the employee. In some quarters, this concept of equal pay for equal work also addresses inequality in pay based on race or sexual orientation. At its heart, comparable worth is focused on ensuring that individuals who are contributing at acceptable levels to a business or other type of organization are compensated equally and without any type of prejudice or discrimination.

The basic idea of comparable worth has its roots in ensuring that women who are functioning in jobs that are similar in duties and responsibilities to those held by men will be compensated at an equal rate of pay. In decades past, women who chose to enter professions that were traditionally considered to be male dominated often found themselves receiving as little as half the compensation offered to men who were doing the same or a similar job. Over time, employment laws in a number of nations were implemented to prevent this type of inequity in pay from occurring. While the newer employment regulations have made it easier to achieve a state of comparable worth, there are still instances where pay is based more on gender and less on competency.


Beginning in the middle 20th century, the presence of racial discrimination in the workplace, including its impact on salary and wages, has been of continual interest to reformers. As with women, the practice of paying an employee who is part of a minority group a lesser wage than a member of the dominant racial group is now considered to not only be unethical, but also illegal in a number of countries. While laws have helped to minimize the incidence of unequal pay for the same or similar work, there are still instances where pay is based more on race and less on job proficiency.

In recent years, sexual orientation has been recognized as a form of discrimination that occurs in the workplace, along with racial and gender discrimination. This has led to some companies adopting policies that firmly prohibit inequality in compensation based on the orientation of an employee. In some countries, laws are now in place that make this type of activity illegal, along with prohibiting inequity in pay based on gender or race. As the idea of comparable worth continues to progress in various business settings, the opportunities for all people to earn a living based on their work ethics, skill sets, and job performance, and not on skin color, gender, or orientation, have increased significantly.


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