Gender Gap in Employment
It has never been successfully argued that men and women are on the same playing field when it comes to work. While it is quite true that there is a growing equality of numbers between men and women in middle management positions (Keller), and that more women than men are now earning advanced college degrees, the statistical truth remains that women continue to make less then men, experience greater career limitations, and enjoy waves of backlash against them for aspiring for equality of opportunity. Add to that the crushing weight of history, where women have suffered as non-entities, second-class citizens, and even “property,” where opportunity and employment were available only for single women, and it can be no wonder that the feminine psyche is aware of its historical limitations. We all live in the same physical world, but the truth is that physics has little to do with equality; perception, history, gender, tradition, religion, politics, economics, fear, and greed all create the antithesis of equality. When we look at why women and men are “different” in the work place, we have to understand history, psychology, and the nature of power.
A variety of explanations for the persistent wage gap have been offered. One is that older women are factored into the wage gap equation, and many of these women from an older generation work in jobs still subject to the attitudes and conditions of the past. In contrast, the rates for young women coming of age in the 1990s reflect women’s social and legal advances. In 2005, for example, women under 25 working full-time earned 93.2% of men’s salaries compared to those 25 and older, who earned 79.4% of what men made,” (Brunner). It was not until the 1980’s when women really began to gain a foothold in the mid to upper level corporate positions and established career paths that had been previously absolutely dominated by men. “Male domination is so rooted in our collective unconscious that we no longer even see it. It is so in tune with our expectations that it becomes hard to challenge it,” (Bourdieu). Men and women are, by both genders, perceived as being fundamentally different. We perceive male and female children differently; we place expectations on them commesurate with our expectations of the behaviors of the gender. Because of these perceptions, and the fact that they are truly archetypal to humanity, men and women are absolutely different within virtually every conceivable historical and present context.
It wasn’t until the passage of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963 (effective June 11, 1964) that it became illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job strictly on the basis of their sex. Demonstrable differences in seniority, merit, the quality or quantity of work, or other considerations might merit different pay, but gender could no longer be viewed as a drawback on one’s resume,” (Brunner).
So, legally, on paper, women were then equal in pay to men. but, history would not allow that to actually even begin to occur for another thirty-years.
In the 1980’s, when the fruits of the Women’s Movement started to ripen, and for the first time, enrollment in college by women eclipsed that of men, a shift occurred. The women attending college had been brought up in a socially progressive world – their parents may have been conditioned in the 1940’s and 1950’s to maintain the male-dominated world, but their peers in the 1960’s and 1970’s taught them that women should be equal – regardless of history. “Statistics from 1993 as compared with 1977 also showed that there was an increase in women’s educational levels. Black women with bachelors degrees increased to 63% in 1993 from 57% in 1977, while White women with bachelor’s degrees increased to 54% in 1993 from 76% in 1977,” (BNET). So, when the Baby Busters and Generation X started attending college in the 1980’s, they did so as a generation whose perception of gender equality was already firmly established as being very different from that of their parents and grand parents.
So, as we begin to understand that statistics are catching up with the population figures, does that necessarily translate into an acceptance of women as being equal to men and, thus, deserving of a true economic equality as well? Psychologically, humanity continues to perceive men as being dominant over women. One has only to look at the popular modes of cultural expression to see that, at least in movies, television, literature, and music, men are physically, politically, socially, and sexually dominant over women. Even in an era where women are in some of the highest earning positions in the world (Oprah Winfrey as a prime example), the male psyche is lashing out and doing all it can, apparently, to reduce women to a weak position – but why? “The basis for the perpetuation of this relationship of domination does not really reside (or at least not principally) in one of the more visible places in which it is exercised – in other words, within the domestic sphere, on which some feminist debate has concentrated its attention – but in locations such as the school, or the state, which function as places for the elaboration and imposition of principles of domination which go on to be exercised even within the most private of worlds,” (Bourdieu).
The psychology of domination is absolutely at work within the context of wage disparity. Many researchers have determined that one of the most significant and persistent psychological factors at play in the wage disparity between men and women is that of reduced expectations of women’s performance. Women are more likely than men to work part-time, more likely to take extended leaves (most often for child-care and family care-taking), and more likely to expend mental resources on their families than men, (Stewart and Moore). Interestingly, Stewart and Moore found that when women are paid less than men, they are perceived as being less valuable than the men, but when they are paid the same, they are perceived as being of equal value as the men. This means that women can be easily, though mistakenly, perceived as being less productive overall than men as long as they are paid less.
Performance expectations of men are higher than women. Because of this expectation, and because of the historical view that men are superior to women (even today evidence of this can be found), the perceived value of women in an economic context is less than men. If women are truly pereived in this manner, and our economy tells us this is true, then the logic of a lower pay scale for the same work and job for women seems to make sense – at least psychologically.
So, how do we combat a social psychology that has its roots in our very distant ancestry? How can we go about perceiving women as being equally valuable, equally productive, and equal in power and social significance to men? If men and women are generally perceived to be capable of different levels of product, efficiency, dedication, and overall ability to produce an economic effect, then it is that perception that must either be confirmed and supported then accepted, or denied and broken. In order to break a psychological perception, logical, clear challenges to those perceptions must be established.
To follow are six of women’s choices that contribute to their gender’s lower incomes: (1)the frequent choice to drop out for a few years to raise children obviously lowers women’s income statistics for those dropped-out years. But mothering experience also changes many women so that they often do not rejoin the climbing-the-ladder job track. (2)the Type — a (workaholic) behavior often exhibited by executives who rise to the top is not chosen as often by women. (3)Women make the gender workplace choice to often avoid physical jobs. For example, large companies such as the major airlines have made significant efforts without much success to attract women to good-paying jobs such as airline baggage handlers. (4)Women have more often chosen advanced degrees that result in lower-paid people-helper jobs such as therapists than higher-paid business executives with MBAs. (5)Earning power has been and is much more a cultural goal for men than for women (though this workplace gender preference does seem to be changing). (6)Entrepreneurial women in fields such as private-practice psychotherapist will, on the average, choose to charge less and thus make less than their male counterparts,” (White).
So, what then is the answer? If women themselves are now in control of the general perception of their overall capability of contributing economic value, should they stop having children? Should they start being generally obsessed with career advancement over all else in their lives? Should they simply deny their inherent femininity and identity, should women simply blend themselves into men?
The answer, quite simply, is no. What needs to change, and what seems to be changing, is the general perception and psychology of expectation about what “work” and “productivity” are. If we reframe our general expectations of what a “good” worker is, redefine that expectation, then we can achieve a psychological parity – and where that begins is with simply paying women in the same job the same rate as men. As long as women earn less, they will be perceived as being “less.” So, simply, clearly, the answer is found in a change at the highest levels – an adherence to the true spirit of the Equal Pay act, and a moral understanding that women earn less than men only because they are paid less than men – not because they deserve less, not because they contribute less, not because they are “less,” but because of a very outdated perception of the capability of women to produce “value.”
BNET. Study: Women Make Gradual Parity with Men in Workplace. 27 JAN 1997. 14-04 2008 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n10_v91/ai_19082478.
Bourdieu, Pierre. On Male Domination. 01 October 1998. 11-04 2008 http://mondediplo.com/1998/10/10bourdieu.
Brunner, Borgna. “The Wage Gap.” 01-01 2007. Infoplease.com. 15-04 2008 http://www.infoplease.com/spot/equalpayact1.html.
Keller, Larry. Women and Men: Payday. 12 December 2000. 11-04 2008 http://archives.cnn.com/2000/CAREER/trends/12/12/womenpay/index.html.
Stewart, Penni a. And James C. Moore. “Wage Disparities and Performance Expectations.” Social Psychology Quarterly 76.1 (2002): 8.
White, Thayer. Be Your Own Therapist. Orinda: Self Published, n.d.
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