So-called women's work—like cleaning, caring, and providing food—is usually underpaid, but "equal pay" isn't the answer. That's according to journalist Anna Louie Sussman, who argues in the New York Times that New Zealand's pursuit of "pay equity" makes a lot more sense. The problem with equal pay, or paying the same for the same work, is that it ignores "the role of occupational segregation in keeping women's pay down: There are some jobs done mostly by women and others that are still largely the province of men," she writes. "The latter are typically better paid." Pay equity, on the other hand, is about paying people based on the difficulty of their job. Advocates talk about "equal pay for work of equal value" or "comparable worth."
"They ask us to consider whether a female-dominated occupation such as nursing home aide ... is really so different from a male-dominated one, such as corrections officer, when both are physically exhausting, emotionally demanding, and stressful—and if not, why is the nursing home aide paid so much less?" Sussman asks. In New Zealand, social workers' pay was raised by an average of 30% after the job was seen to involve emotional demands, physical danger, and problem-solving. The pay-equity movement has faltered in America, per Sussman, but the pandemic is highlighting the value of women's work: "We are finally beginning to grapple with fundamental questions about what makes a worker truly 'essential'—but how far will this grappling actually go?" (Read more women's issues stories.)