Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Editorial about the gender wage gap

Here is an editorial written by a student in my policy course: 

Women earn less than men because of the gender wage gap.  The gender wage gap is the ratio of female to male median yearly earnings among full-time, year round workers.  A wage gap can be caused by a difference in education, characteristics, hours worked, experience, and occupation.  But men are more likely to negotiate a higher pay than women and women who do try to negotiate often are reprimanded for their actions.  Women are seen as less valuable so they are paid less even if they have the exact same qualifications of a man.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that men and women in the same line of work should be given equal pay for equal work but in spite of this act, the “gender gap” continues. In 2014, the average woman working full-time all year in the U.S. earned only 79% of what the average man earned working full-time all year. The wage gap is even bigger for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic man.   Research shows that no matter how you assess the data, the gender wage gap remains even after factoring in the kind of work people do, or qualifications such as education and experience. There is also evidence that discrimination contributes to the pay difference between men and women; wage discrimination is a real and continuous problem that shortchanges American women and their families.
Policies that could help decrease and/or eliminate the wage gap is the family-friendly policy.  The family-friendly policy is when an employer makes it possible for employees to easily balance family and work, and fulfill both family and work obligations.  Other policies include getting rid of outdated rules, raising the minimum wage, and workers being in jobs that suit their skills and qualifications. Working unpredictable and long hours can be a real strain on those who have a family and other family responsibilities.  Advanced notice on shifts can go a long way.  Those who cannot work overtime should not be penalized, because they have a life and family outside of work.  Raising minimum wages can really help women because women are disproportionately represented in lower-wage zones.  

Women represent about 56% of workers who would benefit from increasing minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation.  Businesses and the economy benefit when workers are in jobs they are qualified for; It can increase worker productivity and retention.  Too many times there are cases of people getting high paid, top notch jobs in big corporations because their family owns the company.  The pay gap could decrease if employers went strictly off of qualifications and experience and incorporating the above policies so men and women have equal pay like it should have been since 1963.
My comments: 
I especially like the work on finding out about minimum wages and suggesting that minimum wage policies would disproportionately help raise women’s wages, and therefore go some ways toward closing the gap.  Your comments about working conditions also is clever and creative, as I don’t think many students writing about the gender pay gap mention that fact, but it probably contributes to the differences in length of time employed, since inflexible rules about overtime are more likely to push women out of some jobs.

Let's consider, briefly, a list of things that influence wages:

Men disproportionately go into occupations that have higher salaries, and women are more likely to go into occupations that have lower salaries and wages.  But, we could rephrase this to say that the forces that set wages and salaries tend to undervalue occupations in which women dominate and over-value occupations in which men dominate.  Showing that “occupation” predicts some of the wage gap doesn’t entirely diminish the accusation of injustice against women.

Length of time in occupation (experience)
Women are more likely to take off months or years in their careers, especially when they are pregnant or mothers of young children, and so, on average, men have more occupational experience.  But, we could rephrase this to say that the forces that set expectations and assign value to labor undervalue the reproduction of labor (child rearing, and mothering), and place greater expectations on women to take a hiatus from their paid labor to serve society and their families by working at home (generating no profits for anyone, “merely” reproducing labor so civilization can continue, a service that society only expects persons with sufficient financial resources, or dependence upon someone with significant financial resources, to undertake).  Why don’t we insist upon both men and women having equal duties to take time off to rear their children?  Why do we structure economic life and domestic life so that only the economic life counts as career experience?  These questions point out that when we show how women’s average lack of experience compared to equal-aged men accounts for a large portion of the gender gap in wages, we still haven’t addressed injustices done to women that contribute to this difference in experience (and resulting difference in wages).

Length of time with current employer (tenure)
Women will, on average, have been in their present position, or with their present employer, for a shorter duration than men.  This is for the same reasons that women’s experience tends to be less. Issues behind this involve society’s expectations about women’s roles and the value of domestic life and the reproduction of labor.  While shorter tenure with a current employer or in a current position explains a significant portion of the wage gap, the fact that there are shorter tenures are themselves sign of unfairness to women.

I believe historically it was far more common for men to attend universities or complete high schools than it was for women.  Recent changes in this education pattern are so recent that the generations of better educated women (relative to men) have not yet reached through the career ladders and reached higher paid posts at the top of their fields.   I have university-educated male ancestors back to the 18th (and probably 17th) centuries, but when my great-grandmothers or their sisters went to college in the 1900s or 1910s, they were the first women in their counties to attend or graduate from universities. This education gap is changing, or has changed, and I think as Generation X and the Millennial Generation and the next generation (now just entering secondary school or younger) enter the labor force and rise in their careers we will start to see education levels change so that they favor women, and contribute to a closing of the wage gaps.  Just 30 years ago when I entered college women were very much underrepresented in law schools and medical schools, and I believe now more women than men study in those schools leading to more lucrative professions. 

Personality Differences Related to Gender Expression

Women may be less aggressive in seeking raises, and they may be less likely to use strategies such as seeking out alternative jobs and going to their employers with an offer in hand from a competing employer who would pay higher wages (a strategy far more frequently used by men). Men may be psychologically more oriented toward hierarchical thinking and they may therefore be more likely to emphasize career advancement through the ranks, whereas women may be more psychologically oriented toward flourishing in their present situation and remaining within the network of supportive connections they have with colleagues. 

Unconscious and Conscious Bias in Favor of Men
Employers may have an assumption that men must earn more to fulfil their obligations, and women may earn less. This is the sexism and discrimination that contributes to the wage group.  I suspect it is very small.

Unconscious Assumptions and Traditions
Knowing that women are generally paid less, some employers may simply hire more women for certain roles, or may offer salaries at such low levels that more women would be willing to accept those salaries, and more men would be unwilling to do so.  This is a sort of indirect sexism.  The prejudices and assumptions are directed toward roles, and then those roles are more easily filled by either men or women because of traditions and expectations.  In some sense women may have an advantage of more easily getting access to some jobs, but then they would pay a price in terms of those jobs to which they have better access paying more poorly than jobs men take.  For example, an employer may think to hire an attractive person with good social skills for a job in which the person will engage the general public, and might unconsciously prefer a woman for that role. Some other position may not require any physical attractiveness or any ability to deal graciously with the general public, and that position may pay a higher salary (sales clerk versus purchasing agent, for example). 

Cultural Capital
Some professions and occupations may have traditions of behavior that are associated with expression of strong masculine gender.  For example, certain academic fields, dominated by men, may have a macho occupational culture, and men will more easily conform to behavioral expectations in these professional cultures. Women who may be more competent in the actual labor of the occupation or profession may not excel in the informal expectations outside their direct work responsibilities, and may therefore miss opportunities for career advancement.  For what is valued in some work roles, men may have cultural capital that will help them gain promotions and jobs that become dead-end jobs or unpleasant for women.  

I think the direct sexism against individual female employees is rarely (in a small percentage of cases) a dominant contributing factor to the wage gap (although even a small percentage of cases could be a huge number in a society with 150 million persons in a workforce).  It’s probably mostly institutional gender discrimination and the entwining of patriarchy with capitalism that accounts for most of the wage gap.

Since most people won’t consciously feel the old-fashioned prejudices against women, and those who are trained in social sciences or economics will know that women’s choices (to be more likely major in early childhood development or humanities or social work or education) and men’s choices (to be more likely major in business, computer sciences, engineering, finance) are likely to contribute significantly to wage differences even after controlling for experience and education, I think many people will be highly suspicious of reports about the gender wage gap.  They will have a point, the wage gap doesn't give us evidence of old-fashioned sexism unless we have controlled for many other contributing factors (and the data for the wage gap are reported by the government as raw weekly wage earnings or annual earnings by gender, without controlling for experience, tenure, educational background, psychological variables, etc.).  But, the wage gap does illustrate that our society as a whole continues to diminish the earnings of women, and it seems obvious to me that we can claim that this is a problem in our society.  It violates our sense of fairness and equality.  It shows us that people aren’t always getting what they deserve, and for most of us, we prefer a society where people are fairly rewarded and treated equally.

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