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A Woman's WageHistorical Meanings and Social Consequences$
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Alice Kessler-Harris

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780813145136

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813145136.001.0001

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The Wage Conceived

The Wage Conceived

Value and Need as Measures of a Woman's Worth

(p.7) 1 The Wage Conceived
A Woman's Wage

Alice Kessler-Harris

University Press of Kentucky

At the turn of the century, workers tended to think of wage as the direct result of supply and demand. However, wage primarily depended on custom, existing as more of a social construct than commonly believed. At this time, the man’s wage supported the family while the woman’s wage was only supplementary. This meant that the woman was not only encouraged, but economically coerced into staying in the home, because the smaller wage given to women significantly diminished their ability to support themselves. Throughout the early 1900s, wage was determined by the person doing the job rather than the value of the work accomplished, allowing men to earn more than woman in a socially acceptable way. World War I introduced a slight change to this model as women took men’s jobs, but when the war ended, the interpretation of wage reverted to pre–World War I ideas, though there was a slight increase in women’s pay and a larger push for equal wages.

Keywords:   supply and demand, wage as social construct, man’s wage as means offamily support, early 1900s, World War I and women’s jobs, equal wage

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