I tell my students that there is…and it is a working presumption in my classroom when we talk about structural sin and catholic social teaching. But Carrie Lukas of the Wall Street Journal has written an article that has complicated the issue for me. Consider:
The unemployment rate is consistently higher among men than among women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.3% of men over the age of 16 are currently out of work. The figure for women is 8.3%. Unemployment fell for both sexes over the past year, but labor force participation (the percentage of working age people employed) also dropped. The participation rate fell more among men (to 70.4% today from 71.4% in March 2010) than women (to 58.3% from 58.8%). That means much of the improvement in unemployment numbers comes from discouraged workers—particularly male ones—giving up their job searches entirely.
Men have been hit harder by this recession because they tend to work in fields like construction, manufacturing and trucking, which are disproportionately affected by bad economic conditions. Women cluster in more insulated occupations, such as teaching, health care and service industries.
But, as Lukas notes, women only make about 77% of what men do…and this is what I try to get my students to understand. But she has an interesting take on this statistic:
The Department of Labor’s Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
She claims that things get even less problematic when one considers more specific social situations of workers:
Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women’s earnings are going up compared to men’s.
Though this certainly complicates the issue for me, it still seems that women being primarily responsible for child-rearing puts them at a competitive disadvantage in the workforce…and that this is de facto structural sexism. But I’d be interested in comments from people who know more about this stuff than I do. What is the reply here?
Like you, I struggle to get students, many of whom have not yet experienced sexism or had to face the hard choices that disproportionately fall on women.
I agree that the current economic situation raises some interesting questions because it has disproportionately fallen on men. This is particularly noteworthy also because many are older and unemployed for the first time.
However, I disagree Lukas’ judgment of women’s job choices and the wage gap. If I understand her correctly, she is hypothesizing that the wage gap has to do, in part, with the way men and women make job choices? While I concur women generally choose jobs with lower physical risk (ie. construction a high risk of injury) – this does not necessarily translate into wage differences which disadvantage women. In fact, CNN this morning reported on a story stating that because 1. more women go to college, 2. women tend to live longer, and 3. the shifts in financial planning/small business production, etc. – women will be the primary “audience” for financial planners by 2020.
However, I still think there is an active gender gap and sexism as structural sin – You hint at the end at what I think is the true problem with the wage gap – and the still existing sexism. Over their lifetime, women often make less because they are forced to bear unequal responsibilities for not only child-rearing but also care for the elderly.
We have a category now of women we call the “sandwich generation.” These women are still caring/raising their children while simultaneously facing caring for aging parents. As the baby-boom generation ages and with the realities of modern-medicine (and long-term care) women are faced with choosing lower wages and part time jobs to provide flexibility needed to provide unpaid family care-giving. Many women gladly provide care to both children and ailing family members; however, there is also still a strong stigma and guilt associated with needed help in these areas. Women who resist gender stereo-typing in other areas (like work and even child-rearing) accept them in the care of aging and ailing parents.
The wage-gap may be shrinking for my generation, I am suspicious of the long term reality unless we deal with the gendered assumptions about care for aging and ailing family members.
(The NY Times did a series of articles/op-eds on this in recent years: http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/where-the-mommy-track-crosses-the-daughter-track/ )
I think I want to see Lukas deal with distinct fields rather than merging them all together to make a broad statement about men and women. She may be right in aggregate, that men do more dangerous (and, can I use the word on this blog, yucky?) jobs and therefore have higher pay. While that kind of discussion might be helpful in some ways, I think it is also dangerous because it can cover up unjust wage gaps in specific fields, but even more some other injustices.
I’ve discovered how complicated it is to sort out wages in relation to gender. In our own field, one’s wage depends partly on length of time in the field, partly on rank, partly on other duties done (i.e. chairperson of a department), partly on output (research and teaching both), and other things I’m sure I’m less aware of.
(See here for some more interesting points about this: http://www.aacu.org/ocww/volume39_1/feature.cfm?section=2)
Wage is only one indicator of how well equity in gender works and maybe not the best one. In our field, for instance, oughtn’t we also be looking at how well women are able to progress up the ranks, how good maternity leave policies are, and the like?
The studies that I’ve seen on pay for the same work with the same educational background with the same experience tend to show very little “wage gap”. Most of the issue seems to be that women more commonly make decisions that result in differences in one of these factors. On the one hand, they often opt for more education, on the other, they on average seek less travel, more flexible work hours, shorter hours, better conditions, etc. Also, many women take at some time either off or part time when they have young children. (This results in passing up opportunities for advancement which are typically only available to full time workers, and also experience gaps.)
It seems to me that in order to talk about whether structures of sin are at play, you’d need to start looking at some basic questions about what constitutes justice in relation to career, and what constitutes justice in relation to gender roles.
Obviously, it’s unjust if an employer simply pays women less for the same work because he doesn’t respect women or because he thinks he can get away with it.
However, if women on average seek non-wage advantages such as flexible schedules, less overnight travel, or shorter hours, it seems fairly logical that their work would be paid somewhat less than that of those who are willing to forgo those non-wage advantages in return for more money.
Then too, you have the question as to whether it constitutes an injustice that women who are mothers often seek these things (flexibility, less travel, shorter hours) more than men who are fathers. If one sees the mother and father has having identical roles in the family, then this difference might well be the result of men forcing women to be the ones who take more at-home duties while men “get to” spend more time at work. On the other hand, it seems arguable that (speaking on average, and understanding that many specific women will deviate from this average) mothers often want to be the ones taking a more actively nurturing role with their children while men often naturally want to take a more provider-type role. In this case, the tendency of women to seek shorter and more flexible hours (or to take part time or leave for several years after having children) would be a natural expression of desires that many of them have — and the tendency of men to work longer and harder after having children would be an expression of their differing natural tendency. In such a situation, a wage gap would not necessarily be an indicator of injustice, but merely of difference.