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POLITICAL EQUALITY FOR WOMEN AND
BY S. P. BRECKINRIDGE,
University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
An examination of the wage-scales of women workers brings out two striking facts: first, the wage level of a large number of women is conspicuously below the level which would make possible competent and efficient life; second, the wage level of women is conspicuously lower than the wage level of men.
On the first point, reference is made to various sources dealing with women's wages in England, such as the report of the parliamentary committee on home work in 1907,1 the report of the wages boards established under the trade boards act of 1909,2 the reports of the bureau of labor on women and child wage earners,3 the reports of commissions established in several states to consider the creation of minimum wage commissions, and the reports of such minimum wage commissions as have reported determinations, e.g., Massachusetts and Oregon. These sources furnish material relating to many trades employing women and girls in many sections of the country under urban, village and rural conditions.
In support of the second statement reference is made to Sydney Webb's classic study of women's wages made in 1891; to the re
1 Reports of Select Committees of House of Commons on Home Work, 1907, No. 290; 1908, No. 246.
2 Constance Smith, "Working of Trade Board Acts in Great Britain and Ireland," in Journal of Political Economy, vol. xxii, p. 605, July, 1914.
Senate Doc. No. 645, 61 Cong., 2 sess.
• Massachusetts, Report of the Commission on Minimum Wage Boards, January, 1912. (House Doc. No. 1697). Boston, 1912. Oregon, Industrial Welfare Commission. Report of the Social Survey Committee of the Consumers' League of Oregon on the wages, hours, and condition of work, and cost and standard of living of woman wage-earners in Oregon, with special reference to Portland. Portland, 1913, 71 p.
Report of Massachusetts Commission on Minimum Wage Boards, House Doc. (1912) No. 1697. For Oregon see several items in The Survey, covering various groups of employes in Portland, and in the state at large.
• Webb, "Alleged Differences in the Wages paid to Men and Women for Similar Work," in Economic Journal, vol. i, p. 635.
port of the royal commission on labour;" to Miss Abbott's study of women's wages in America; and the various volumes of the report on women and child wage earners dealing with the cotton, glass, and silk industries, the sewing trades, selected metal trades, work in laundries, and a number of other selected occupations.
The testimony of all this evidence is to the effect that the wages of women workers range from about one-third to about two-thirds of those of men. As will appear later, this generally does not mean that men and women are paid at these different rates for doing the same work, but what appears is an almost complete separation of function between men and women, with the resulting lack of opportunity for women's employment and consequent lower level of pay for women. Weaving in the cotton and silk industries forms a conspicuous exception and even there the men are often paid either at a higher rate on the assumption that they "tune" or "fix" looms, or are paid for the performance of certain other mechanical duties in addition to their pay as weavers.
The question is raised as to whether the exclusion of women from political power is a factor in either of these anti-social characteristics of women's wages and whether the grant of political power would tend to secure for women more nearly a living wage, to raise the wages of women more nearly to an equality with the wages of men.' It is the purpose of this paper to set forth the considerations leading to a belief that there is an important connection between lack of political equality and this double under-payment of women workers.
7 Report of Royal Commission on Labour (Cd. 6894), dealing with Women's Work.
Abbott, Women in Industry, chap. xii, pp. 262-316; Appendix C, 363-373. • The writer is aware that Mrs. Sydney Webb does not agree with the claim of women to equal pay. It is unnecessary to go into that question here, since Mrs. Webb is a suffragist and evidently believes that the ballot can be used by women to secure a more satisfactory wage level, even if she thinks not even political equality will enable them to secure a reward for their labor determined by purely economic considerations. (See The New Statesman, August 22, 1914, p. 613.) It is interesting to recall in this connect on the audience recently granted by Mr. Asquith to the deputation of work ng women from East London. Concerning this, the English Nation said among other things: "Even more influential than the force of direct pressure from voters will be the new habit of mind in which Parliament, parties, and the press will be trained when they realize that in fact as well as in sentiment women are half the nation."
That connection may be less immediate than is sometimes urged, but it is more far-reaching, more determining and more important than is often understood. Because they have not taken the trouble to follow the arguments, very distinguished writers have made foolish and ill-considered statements about the lack of connection because of the finality of the law of supply and demand. For example, Mr. Dicey in a serious discussion of the subject,10 quite ignoring the fact that any influence which affects either item in ratio of demand to supply affects the ratio itself, says cuttingly:
Lastly, it is asserted that the possession of votes will increase the earnings of women. This probably is of itself enough to enlist every underpaid and under-fed seamstress or maid-of-all-work in the ranks of the fighting suffragists. The plain answer to it is that the prediction, if it means (as every working woman understands it to mean) that a vote will raise the market value of a woman's work, is false. The ordinary current price of labor depends on economical causes, and is not affected by a man's or a woman's possession of the parliamentary franchise. No master raises his footman's wages because the man-servant happens to be a voter; and he will assuredly not raise the wages of his housemaid because he finds that, under some Woman's Enfranchisement Act, she has got her name placed on the parliamentary register. Why, in the name of common sense, should a vote confer upon a woman a benefit which it has never conferred upon a man? We have throughout this article indeed admitted that woman suffrage does increase the chance of Parliament turning its attention towards the wishes of women, and thus may cause any grievance under which a woman suffers to be the more speedily removed. But this admission is a totally different thing from the assertion that a woman's vote will raise her wages.
The wage level does, of course, depend on "economical causes" and is, of course, determined by the relation between the demand for labor and the supply of labor. Whatever influence operates to lessen the supply at any point relatively to the demand at that point or to intensify the demand relatively to the supply will set in motion "economical causes" and will operate favorably to the worker as compared with the employer; whatever influence increases the supply at any point relatively to the demand or weakens the demand will in the same way operate to the disadvantage of the worker at that point as compared with the employer. Whatever influence leads to decisions based on social, historical, accidental considerations rather than on considerations of efficiency, competence,
10 Quarterly Review, vol. ccix, (No. 418), p. 287, January, 1909.
industrial capacity operates through non-economical causes and acts to the advantage of men and to the disadvantage of women, while influences bringing about decisions based on considerations of capacity and efficiency operate to the advantage of women. The extent to which the wage bargain will be favorable or unfavorable to any group of workers, as compared with the employers, will depend on the extent to which (1) the workers do or do not possess skill of a high industrial or professional character; (2) they have or have not alternative opportunities for employment; (3) they can or can not wait, in case no suitable opportunity offers; (4) they can or can not move from place to place in search of employment; (5) they have or have not bargaining strength and shrewdness; (6) they are or are not conscious of a common interest and able to act together.
Before discussing more at length these factors in the relative strength or weakness of women wage earners, certain distinctions should be drawn between different groups of women workers. Because of the very recent date at which the thirteenth census (1910) of occupations was issued (August, 1914) and the consequent greater familiarity of the classification of occupations adopted by the twelfth census (1900), the latter is retained for the purpose of this discussion. According to that classification, gainfully employed persons were grouped in five large classes of occupations: agriculture, professional, domestic and personal service, trade and transportation, manufacturing and mechanical pursuits. Of the agricultural women, of whom in 1900 there were 977,336, and in 1910 apparently 1,807,050,"1 we know little as to wages or conditions of employment. Of those in domestic and personal service, of whom there were in 1900, 2,095549 and in 1910, 2,620,857, we know that, in 1910, 156,235 (67,988 in 1900) did not earn wages but offered lodgings or took boarders, that 1,595,449 (1,330,692 in 1900) held positions in higher or lower forms of domestic service, an occupation whose characteristic is that it is unstandardized, i.e., one employe may earn high wages under excellent living and working conditions, while another is a drudge and a "slavey” under wretched conditions both for living and working.
In this same group of gainfully employed in domestic and personal service are found also the laundresses and waitresses. So far as these are employed under conditions of domestic employment, 11 Thirteenth Census, Occupations 1910, p. 54. See discussion of probable error on this point.
they are again in occupations which can not be made the subject of general characterization. So far, however, as they include workers in power-laundries or in "down-town restaurants," they can be grouped for purposes of discussing their wages with the groups in trade and transportation and in manufacturing and mechanical pursuits. In these groups, employing, in 1900, 1,816,015 and in 1910 2,974,447 women, the position of both men and women wage-earners (individual) is disadvantageous as compared with the employer. In many occupations in these groups a low degree of skill is required, the workers can not wait for employment, there is no way of their learning the state of the labor market, and in bargaining shrewdness the workers who make a bargain only between jobs are at a great disadvantage as compared with the employer's agent who bargains practically all his working life.
Moreover, women are often at a real disadvantage as compared with men. In the first place, it is admitted that they often do not bring the same degree of skill or occupational capacity. They wholly lack the physique for certain occupations, such as construction work or heavy teaming. By unanimous social judgment, their sex disqualifies them for work done under conditions of physical exposure, as in the underground mining, or of moral peril, as in saloons. There are few or no technical schools for them, and they are often from lower age groups and add immaturity to their other disadvantages. It appears, for example, that in 1910, 83 per cent of the gainfully employed males were over 21, and 17 per cent only under 21; while only 66 per cent of all the gainfully employed females were over 21, and 33 per cent were under that age. And in many occupations the relative proportion of women in the younger age groups is much larger than one-third. For example, 68 per cent of the female employes and only 20 per cent of the male employes among glove workers are under 21 years of age; among the candy workers, 68 per cent of the female and 24 per cent of the male; among the glassworkers, 57 per cent of the female and 24 per cent of the male; in soap factories, 56 per cent of the female and 24 per cent of the male; among the telephone and telegraph operators, 47 per cent of the female and 21 per cent of the male; among sales persons 33 per cent of the female and 17 per cent of the male employes are under 21 years of age, while even in coal mining and cotton manufacturewith glass, the great boy-employing industries-the figures are, in