"A woman doing the same job as a man should be paid the same," she said. "But we are often told that the man has to support a family."
  Several men in the audience nodded emphatically: that was what they always said.
  "But what about the woman who has to support a family?"
   This brought murmurs of agreement from the women.
   "Last week in Acton I met a girl who is trying to feed and clothe her five children on two pounds a week, while her husband, who has run off and left her, is earning four pounds ten shillings making ships' propellers in Tottenham, and spending his money in the pub!"
   "That's right!" said a woman behind Ethel.
   "Recently I spoke to a woman in Bermondsey whose husband was killed at Ypres--she has to support his four children, yet she is paid a woman's wage."
   "Shame!" said several women.
   "If it's worth the employer's while to pay a man a shilling apiece to make gudgeon pins, it's worth his while to pay a woman at the same rate."
(Ken Follett, Fall of Giants)

The parsing is very hard. On one hand, ‘employer’s while’ and ‘his while’ seem noun phrases but they make no sense to me. On the other hand, I suspect 'employer's' and 'his' have some meaning but I'm not sure. How do I understand the sentence, semantically and syntactically?

  • 1
    This use of while appears almost exclusively in the pattern worth [genitive determiner] while.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


You may be interested in this word:

worthwhile : being worth the time or effort spent


while : n. the time and effort used (as in the performance of an action) < worth your while >

The sentence is saying: If the employer sees benefit in paying a man, it should see the same benefit in paying a woman the same money for the same work.

  • This is correct. "While" is a noun, as defined here. Keeping that in mind should solve your problem in parsing. As for your question about the meaning of "employer's" and "his," exactly what part of these words do you not understand? They couldn't be much more basic. Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 7:43
  • @JohnM.Landsberg I suspect OP means that it is the genitive casting she cannot parse, since she is trying to understand while in its more usual prepositional or conjunctive sense. Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 12:42

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