Sex Discrimination Acts

   Most feminists have argued women’s position in the labour market is a source of female disadvantage. Functionalists have argued that women get paid less than men as they have less skill and labour market experience than men, due to the time women spend in households. Marxist feminists stress material and economic factors and capital-labour relations. However, it is liberal feminists who have placed most emphasis upon the introduction of equal opportunities in the labour market through new legislation.
   In 1970, the Equal Pay Act was passed, followed in 1975 by the Sex Discrimination Act. This act barred discrimination on the grounds of sex in employment, education and the provision of goods, services and premises. In employment, women were to be given equal access to jobs and equal chances for promotion as men. Some types of jobs however, were excluded from the provisions of the Act, where there was considered to be a genuine occupational qualification by sex. The act was broadened in scope in 1986. One of the reasons for these legislative changes was the political pressure from women in trade unions.
   Whether the Sex Discrimination Act has had a significant effect upon women’s employment levels and position in the labour market, relative to that of men, is not immediately obvious. There was a slight closure of the wages gap between men and women immediately after the act was implemented; women’s wages as a percentage of men’s rose from 63 percent in 1970 to 76 percent in 1977 (Equal Opportunities Commission). There was little further increase until the early 1990s, when in 1993 the figure rose to 79 percent. Whether or not the decrease in the wages gap between men and women can be attributed to the legislation has been questioned. There continue to be considerable differences between the average pay of men and women, and men and women still continue to do different jobs. The legislation has also been criticized for failing to address other problems women face in paid employment, such as domestic care of children, husbands and elderly relatives.
   Further reading
    Equal Opportunities Commission (1994) Some Facts About Women, based on New Earnings Survey and Labour Force Survey, London: HMSO.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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