Do Mothers Choose to Earn Less? Unlikely

I’ve been using a lot of air quotes in my classroom discussions, and I’m finding it a bit troubling. Not just because the quotes date me to the late 1990s, but also because they are inadequate stand-ins for something that needs to be said. Those gestures you make by your ears that slip out with little warning, shooting up from your hip mid-sentence as if to add irony, complexity, and intrigue. Women’s and men’s “choices” in work. Women’s and men’s “choices” in family.

Can the gestures do justice to the complexity of structurally and culturally constrained decisions?

I’m tired of relying on air quotes, but I’m more tired of the rhetoric of choice that is so often used to explain gender inequality. In her recent WSJ article, Hymowitz states: “All over the developed world women make up the large majority of the part-time workforce, and surveys suggest they want it that way.” Hymowitz’s argument is clear: Women have children. They choose to work part-time. They take a dock in pay.

There’s a lot to take issue with here, not the least of which is the empirical inaccuracy (as Julie notes in her post, the gender gap in earnings persists among women and men who work the same hours). But the rhetoric of choice, the subtle oversimplification of “want” is perhaps most troubling.

We need descriptive statistics, such as the studies done by Pew and cited by Hymowitz that tell us that 62% of working mothers would prefer to work part-time and 21% of working fathers would prefer to work part-time. We need to believe that most mothers do want to work part-time. But then we need to ask why. What is a want? What is a preference? What is a choice? Do these figures reflect the stress of trying to do it all? Do they reflect gendered notions of what a mother should be doing? What a father should be doing? Do they reflect inadequate compensation and limited work opportunities? Do they reflect the inequities between mothers and fathers that (sometimes unknowingly) seep into decisions regarding work and family?

How can these statements on mothers’ and fathers’ wants encapsulate all of the constraints on women’s and men’s “choices?”

The rhetoric of choice is powerful and often subtle. Women choose to work part-time. Women choose to work in jobs that pay less but provide mother-friendly benefits in return. Social scientists have long shown that women’s jobs don’t provide such great compensating rewards. Teachers may get two months off over the summer, but they also get a rigid academic year and little flexibility in the start and end times of their day. In my recent research, “Women’s Work and Working Conditions: Are Mothers Compensated for Lost Wages?” I show that mothers pay the largest wage penalty when they work in female-dominated jobs. They pay more of a price and don’t get much in return, at least not in terms of flexibility, access to part-time work schedules, or greater job satisfaction. Are these mothers really choosing to earn less? I doubt it.

Our research findings on wants, preferences, and decisions need air quotes at minimum. But they also need more—a real discussion among social scientists, journalists, and the public about the complexity of work and family decisions. The subtle structural and cultural forces that simultaneously constrain mothers’ (and fathers’) choices and render them invisible.

Rebecca Glauber is Assistant Professor of Sociology the University of New Hampshire. She studies gender inequalities in families and the workplace.

12 comments
  1. All I can offer is an anecdote.

    In my family, YES, my wife is CHOOSING to earn less, at least she will be soon.

    Currently we both have about the same incomes, but she earns a little bit more than I do. Her work schedule is currently more flexible than mine. She has an MBA, I have a BS. She is currently in a management level job, I am not (software developer).

    Over the past year she has told me that she doesn’t like her job, doesn’t like the corporate world, and wants to quit her career to become a fitness instructor, making probably about 25% of what she gets now. (Her current is around 100K).

    She EXPECTS me to be able to increase my income by at least 25% over the next couple of years as she takes up her new career.

    Now, explain to me how being the one expected to increase their income is the “good” thing, and being the one with the “freedom” to choose to take a massively reduced income is the one getting the “bad” end of the deal?

    The reality is that women generally do have more FREEDOM to choose the types of jobs that they want, and they often choose to maximize things other than income in their careers. If you look at the “worst” jobs in America (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/04/10/the-best-and-worst-jobs-for-2012/) you will find that only about 2 of them are heavily populated by women, the others are heavily male dominated. There is a reason for that.

    What I believe is this: Men typically choose to maximize income above all else in their careers, women do not. Maximizing income isn’t a “good” thing. The reason that men do this is due to the burden of the expectation of being the bread winner and feeling like if they don’t they won’t be able to attract or raise a family. Even before getting married men typically aren’t sure if they will be sole bread winners or not, but try to prepare for the assumption that they will be. As a result many men forgo careers they would enjoy more in favor of taking careers that maximize their incomes.

    Conversely, women do the opposite, with the expectation that they will get married and have a man’s income they will be able to rely upon women think more about choosing a career that they enjoy or get something out of emotionally or something that is rewarding to them in ways other than just money for example being a teacher or a veterinary assistant, etc., or they do things that are higher risk in terms of potential reward, like writing or acting, etc.

    If we are talking about non-college educated workers, then we have the situation of women taking relatively easier work, here we see the choice being between oil rig worker or waitress, logger or secretary, garbage man or cashier.

    Yes, the men’s blue collar jobs pay more, they are also much more dangerous, often involve time away from home, and require heavy labor, etc.

    So, I’m 100% for equal pay for equal work, but thus far I’m not convinced that at this point the difference in aggregate pay between men and women isn’t almost entirely a product of work choices made by men and women, and that, in fact, women aren’t getting the better end of the deal.

    Yes, aggregate male income is higher, but to a large degree that income end up going to women anyway, and women have more freedom to choose jobs that pay less but they enjoy more. I can tell you this. If I were a woman I doubt I’d be a software developer right now, I’d probably have a PhD in Anthropology or Sociology instead and be a professor and writing books, which is what I’d rather be doing right now, but that wasn’t the career choice that maximized income or did it as quickly as programming, so I didn’t go that route.

    And here is the thing, if I am right, then working to “close the pay gap” will only result is making living conditions worse for women, not better, because the only way to close that gap (assuming we don’t resort to some kind of Soviet style system or government dictated wages) would be for more women to become oil rig workers, coal miners, mechanics, etc. and for more men to become day care workers, elementary school teachers, nurses, cashiers, etc. If you think that that’s a world in which women will be better off, then go for it. I believe that women themselves actually disagree, which is reflected in current voluntary job choice trends.

    The only way to “fix the wage gap” is to force women to take jobs that they don’t want… Have fun…

    • I don’t think the point is about who is getting a “better” or a “worse” deal. I think the point is about how we define and talk about choices. In that regard I think you made the author’s point. The idea is to point out that the rhetoric of “choice” is at best an oversimplification.

      Yes, when looking at individual behavior it appears that each person makes an individual choice to do one thing over another. However, by calling both your and your wife’s divergent career paths a “choice” is to conceal the social forces that lead you to those “decisions.” For instance, you mention the anxiety that comes with the burden of having to be a provider and a breadwinner for your wife and therefore forego a career that is more enjoyable for a career that is more practical and economically sound. In my opinion this seems like a coerced “choice” at best. Male cultural obligations to be a provider and breadwinner are powerful forces that steered you to make the choice to enter the programming field rather than the sociology or anthropological fields.

      Your wife’s “choice” to enter a field with more freedom is likely a coerced choice as well. Consider the family and children. If many husbands are like yourself and “choose” careers that maximize income for less flexibility and freedom then who will take care of affairs at home while the husband is at work? Who will stay home when a child is sick? Who will drive the kids to practice? The husband certainly can’t leave his inflexible job to take care of these pressing family needs.

      I only provide these examples to make the point that choices are rarely that. Rather, what may look like a simple career choice is more like a career concession. One concedes to do one thing over another. One “chooses” programming over sociology because they concede the the point that they have to be a “male breadwinner.” One “chooses” a career with more freedom because females have cultural responsibilities of their own. The main point then is not to keep a tally of who is winning and who is losing. The way I look at it is to ask more questions: Why is the rhetoric of “choice” so pervasive? How can we best measure different coercive elements of “choices” that people make? Who benefits from the ideology of “choice?”

      • That’s kind of meaningless.

        My point is this. What I see is women complaining about the “wage gap”, and basically stating that the “wage gap” is a product of work-place discrimination. It is not. Maybe like 5% of the gap is due to that, but the bulk of the gap is a product of the different careers that men and women tend to choose.

        Ignoring the really high end jobs for a moment (i.e. over paid CEOs, etc.) The difference is largely a product of the fact that men are disproportionately coal miners, programmers, mechanics, etc. while women are disproportionately day care workers, cashiers, teachers, secretaries, etc.

        That fact accounts for at least 80% of the current difference in pay among full time working men and women. Women are also more likely to work part-time instead of full time.

        Given these facts, what are the ways in which the “wage gap” could be closed?

        Well, there are only a few possibilities, assuming a static job pool (i.e. all of the same jobs exist in the job market as currently exist)

        1) More men become part-time workers and more women become full-time workers. (Okay, is this something that women really want? I mean my wife keeps telling me that she wants to work part time, should I be a good feminist and tell her no, she can’t work part time? Is my wife SUPPOSED to place work above anything else in her life? I’d like to work part-time too. What it comes down to is if anyone is going to work part-time in the family, “she *gets* to do it”. If I told her, “No honey, you keep your high paying corporate job, I’m going to work part-time and take a pay cut,” no doubt we would end up in divorce, that’s NOT what SHE wants! We currently have virtual income parity in our household and household responsibility parity. According to the feminist bean counters, we are contributing to “good statistics”, yet my wife is unhappy and wants to change the situation so that our household will contribute to negative statistics according to the feminist bean counters.

        2) More women would have to take jobs currently dominated by men AND more men would have to take jobs currently dominated by women. In fact, what would be required is for all jobs to be populated roughly 50/50 by men and women. That means we need a massive infusion of female coal miners, truckers, police officers, fire fighters, garbage collectors, mechanics, warehouse workers, airline pilots, commercial fishermen, engineers, programmers, etc. and we need a massive shift of men into day care, teaching, nursing, secretary positions, cashiering, beauty and salon jobs, etc.

        But now we have to ask, why isn’t this occurring naturally? As some feminists would tell it, its because of “discrimination” in the work place, or its because of the cultural norms we raise our children with. I call BS on both of those explanations. I think its due to inherent biological differences in men and women.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who thinks that women are “inferior” to men or that women can’t do things intellectually that men can do, etc. and I’m all for allowing the women who want to be coal miners to be coal miners, etc. but I don’t think most women WANT to be coal miners, in fact I don’t think that MEN *want* to be coal miners. The only reason that men are coal miners is because its a way to maximize their income given the set of skills that they have. And the reason that they try to maximize their income is to support a wife and children! I’m sure they would rather do something else if they could get away with it, they are doing it out of obligation.

        So why aren’t there more women coal miners? #1 because its a physically demanding job that MOST women aren’t capable of doing or aren’t willing to do. Reality check, men and women are biologically different, yes, statistically speaking, men are stronger than women. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, and there are a small number of women coal miners, but they will always be exceptions to the rule. #2 because they don’t have to. Women are more likely to be able to depend on additional sources of income, either from a husband or ex-husband. That income typically affords them the “luxury” of choosing to take a less physically demanding job, like being a secretary or cashier as opposed to going into the mines. #3 because they don’t want to. Even if they are physically capable of doing it, its a crappy job, its high risk, it requires a lot of time away from family, its uncomfortable. Even if we assume no sexism on the job, its still never going to be a job that appeals to women, heck it doesn’t even appeal to men, men just do it because they “have to”.

        So, assuming that we don’t start setting prices on all jobs, the only solution is for women to take jobs dominated by men and vice-versa. My contention is that, with very few exceptions, there isn’t any amount of social engineering we can do that would result in the level of voluntary changes to career choice needed to close the wage gap. Men and women are biologically different. They have different capabilities, and different desires and different preferences. If this weren’t true then we would see equal division of labor in nature among other animals. This is VERY rare. We can’t very well blame the fact that women are the primary care givers and child raisers in virtually all animal species on government policy or on human social norms can we? Men and women take on different roles in virtually every species on earth, why would people be different?

        3) We could set the wages for different jobs to achieve wage parity without making changes to actual job roles. Under this scenario, women would still dominate jobs like day care, teaching, nursing, secretary, etc. presumably, but the pay for those jobs would be increased.

        Okay, how do you do that? That would require essentially the adoption of Communism, which is fine, but all pretenses of a market economy would have to go out the window in order to achieve this.

        In order to pay teachers and day care workers more would require charging more to parents for those services. Ironically, the natural result of that would likely be to force more women out of the work place due to inability to afford day care. The only way to counter that would be to subsidize day care workers from the tax base, which would require raising taxes, which pretty much goes across the board on all of these issues, which would result basically in having to implement a massive welfare state the likes of which this country has never seen. It would have to be on par with a Soviet style system, where all wages would be set by the government or by some kind of legislative councils or something.

        By increasing the pay for stuff like day-care workers, secretaries, etc. this would no doubt attract men out of jobs like coal mining into those positions naturally, but then we would have shortages of workers in those fields, so again we get back to a Soviet style system that would basically allocate individuals to jobs and no one would have career choice in order to manage proper allocation of resources with the abandonment of a market based job system.

        Summary:
        What is the “end game” here for the “feminists”? The reality now is not that women aren’t getting equal pay for equal work, that has essentially been achieved. The complaint now is either that the jobs that women tend to take aren’t paid highly enough, or women aren’t taking the right number of more highly paid jobs.

        So what’s the solution? The solution is apparently for more women to work harder, and longer, and to choose higher paying careers, which often require spending more time way from family, doing more physically demanding and dirty work, or being more involved in engineering.

        Far as I can see, women have NO DESIRE to actually do this. The only women advocating it are sociologists with PhDs writing papers about how there should be more women coal miners and computer programmers.

        The only legitimate issue that I see, and where I agree on the wage gap issue, is the lack of women in high level powerful positions, like executive positions, but having said that I think that 99.9% of executives and Wall Streeters are over paid to begin with, so I don’t think that women should be getting those incomes, I think that no one should be.

        I’d rather see women fight against excess executive pay than fight to join their ranks…

        At this point I don’t believe that women are getting the “short end of the deal”, I think that men are, but men are also accepting of the role of taking the short end of the deal, just like men have always been more accepting of going off to fight and die in war while women stay at home. The fact that women have lower incomes in aggregate than men is a product of the fact that women have more freedom to chose jobs that they like over jobs that pay more.

        Do women really want to live in a society where they are the primary bearers of the financial burden, where they have less time to spend with their children and families, and where they work in jobs that are more demanding and less emotionally rewarding? Because that’s what men have right now, and that’s why there is a “wage gap”…

  2. @R.G. Price thanks for your comments on the blog and I’m glad you found it thought provoking, even if you disagreed with much of Rebecca’s argument. There are just a couple of points I want to quickly mention about your response.

    First, and perhaps most importantly, many researchers (and not just us Sociologists either) do not believe that there are biological arguments to be made about the apparent differences between men and women. Gender, many of us argue (and there is empirical evidence to support this claim), is an entirely social product. Of course there are some sex based differences, particularly in health (think about higher rates of breast cancer among women than women). The explanations, however, that biology is somehow at the root of social inequalities in gender (note – gender, not sex) are not widely held. The same can be said for preferences – gender based preferences (to be a coal miner or not to be) are products of socialization, not innate features of biology.

    This is true in the animal kingdom (which you reference in your post as evidence of a natural order). Take for instance male emperor penguins, who are primarily responsible for guarding/warming eggs after they are laid by the female penguins. This is but one example of the complex way in which the interplay between gender roles and sex are not static, even in non-human species.

    Second, I think that you’re quite correct in pointing out that some pay gaps are due to the slotting of women into certain types of jobs. However, the issue is deeper than this. The graph embedded within my post that accompanies this panel (http://bit.ly/JYI12K) illustrates that within the SAME job categories there is also a pay gap. So it is not just that women are being pushed by social convention into teaching or nursing, but that even in those positions men make, on average, more money for the same work.

    Finally, you ask whether women “want to live in a society where they are the primary bearers of the financial burden” and if this is only a group of female PhDs that want this. There is empirical evidence, for example, that women in professionalized occupations are putting off having families so that they can establish themselves in their field of choice. There are also increasing numbers of women entering fields like engineering that have traditionally been dominated by men. So there are women who are interested in breaking through these barriers. We’re also seeing stay at home dads in increasing numbers as well as men who are the primary caretakers (estimates as high as 1 in 5 American households).

    I’m not sure that we need a “socialist utopia” to ensure that wages are equalized between men and women, or between racial/ethnic groups (there are serious wage gaps by race as well). What we do need, I believe, is a recognition is that this is not “natural” (there is no empirical evidence to support such claims, and I’m happy to provide you with sources that discuss this). If women choose to stay at home, I feel that we need to support them if that is indeed their choice (and not “choice” as in it was either that or working at McDonalds). And we need to make sure that if they choose not to stay at home, they are supported there to. This includes ensuring that equal work = equal pay. For me, its not about forcing people to earn less, or work in particular jobs, or punish them for their choices. It is about supporting individual decisions equally and ensuring that everyone as the same ability to make those choices.

    • @Chris Err, no. You are misunderstanding biology. BTW, my BS is in biology…

      “Gender, many of us argue (and there is empirical evidence to support this claim), is an entirely social product.”

      You can argue it, but its utter nonsense. Sex and “gender” are both biologically driven. What is true is that sex and gender can be in contradiction, if you want to call it that, but neither is a social product.

      “This is true in the animal kingdom (which you reference in your post as evidence of a natural order). Take for instance male emperor penguins, who are primarily responsible for guarding/warming eggs after they are laid by the female penguins.”

      You totally misunderstand this fact. The fact that the care giving role is reversed in penguins (or for that matter sea horses) compared to the norm doesn’t dispute the biological basis of sexual differentiation, it merely shows that the roles may vary from species to species, but the fact that the males are the ones that care for the eggs is biologically defined among the penguins. And again, the reason that its the males who guard the eggs among the Emperor Penguins is because of the extreme physical difficulty of the challenge, to which the male penguins are better suited. Note that males aren’t always the physically stronger sex in a species, its just usually the case among vertebrates. Among insects usually the females are the larger and stronger.

      “So it is not just that women are being pushed by social convention into teaching or nursing”

      #1) Conjecture. There is no evidence that women are being “pushed” into these fields by social convention. #2) What’s wrong with nursing and teaching?

      “but that even in those positions men make, on average, more money for the same work.”

      This is not actually proven out by the numbers. There are way too many faulty statistics at play. For example, the graph you cite lists Elementary and Middle School teachers, showing a gap in favor of men. This just demonstrate how bogus those stats are, because virtually all school wages are set by formulas and have nothing to do with gender. You need to look into something called Simpsons Paradox, which can impact both means and medians. Basically, if 80% of elementary school teachers are women and 50% of middle school teachers are women, and elementary school teachers get paid $30K and middle school teachers get paid $45K then simply by lumping them together you will end up with a stat showing that “women get paid less”, when it isn’t true at all, its just a product of statistics.

      “There is empirical evidence, for example, that women in professionalized occupations are putting off having families so that they can establish themselves in their field of choice. There are also increasing numbers of women entering fields like engineering that have traditionally been dominated by men. So there are women who are interested in breaking through these barriers.”

      Agreed, and that’s fine, but #1) there is nothing in these trends that’s going to close the gap to zero. I’m all for encouraging women to get into whatever field they want to get into, but here is the issue. There will always be outliers, and I’m 100% in favor of making it possible for those outliers to have the freedom to do whatever they want and not have barrier formed by prejudice prevent them from perusing fields they excel in. But these are outliers.

      This is what I think happens, we had a situation were 100% of women were not allowed to do X. But, maybe 5% of women are actually really good at X and enjoy it.So those women push to be able to do X, and they get there, but now they are still a minority in a field. Now maybe they make up 10% of some field, and because they are a minority in that field they still experience and/or perceive discrimination against them or at least less commonality with their peers. So now they want more women in the field of their choosing, and they now believe that since THEY got into the field, that surely “all other women would really want to do it too, if only it weren’t for the patriarchy keeping those other women down!”

      But here is the thing, that’s not true. Those pioneering women, or women who go into traditionally male roles, like say fire fighting are exceptions to the rule. Most women DON’T WANT TO BE LIKE THEM.

      I’m glad that we allow the exceptions to the rule to follow their heart, I’m glad, but they have an unreasonable expectation that other women share their interests. And this is the thing, a lot of these women to go into traditionally male dominated areas are actually upset with their fellow women because their fellow women don’t share their interests, but they refuse to acknowledge this so they then come up with all of these explanations about social programming, etc.

      Now, having said that, there is some truth to that, I mean there is truth to the notion that gender roles and dominance roles can be, and traditionally have been, socially reinforced, but its not true that is 100% social. The reality is that the traditional roles are built on a biological basis, what the traditional roles have done is amplify the biological underpinnings. So you can take away the social aspects of gender role assignment, but you aren’t going to eliminate the underlying phenomenon.

      And we should do that, we should eliminate the social aspect, but we shouldn’t expect the biological aspect to disappear.

      What we had in the past was rigid role assignment, where people who didn’t fit the norm were discriminated against. That’s what we need to eliminate, discrimination against people who don’t fit the norm. But guess what, THERE IS STILL GOING GOT BE A NORM!

      Yes, we shouldn’t force women to be teachers, nurses, and secretaries, and we shouldn’t prevent women from being engineers, doctors, or coal miners, but even when we do that, its still going to be the case that most women still prefer being a day care worker over being a coal miner, even if being a coal miner pays twice as much. There will be exceptions to that rule, but statistically speaking the majority will favor the one over the other, and those statistics are what are going to drive a wage gap.

    • I have to add this one other thing as well regarding the gender issue. You stated:

      “Gender, many of us argue (and there is empirical evidence to support this claim), is an entirely social product. ”

      This is completely bogus, and very harmful on a number of fronts.

      First, let’s use the significant case of David Reimer, the boy who had his penis & testicles removed at birth and was raised as a girl. If you haven’t heard of this case then you should read up on it:

      http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2004/may/04051010

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer

      This boy was raised as a girl, didn’t even have a penis, was put into dresses, given a girl’s name, was told he was a girl, etc., and he absolutely rejected it and knew he was a boy and self-identified as a boy. As you may know, he has since committed suicide.

      This is, perhaps, the most well documented (and tragic) cases of gender assignment experimentation, which tested the theory that gender is purely a social construct with no biological basis. That theory failed this test completely.

      Secondly, note that the idea that gender is something that is completely learned is the basis of Christian fundamentalist arguments against homosexuality, and the basis of their failed “ex-gay therapy” programs. The idea that gender roles are learned, and not biological, is the fundamental underpinning of the most significant form of anti-gay discrimination.

      The reality is that gay people are born that way, it’s not something that is learned or driven by socialization. Yes, gender and sex may be in “contradiction”, but its due to biological reasons, not social ones.

      The notion that, “if we just changed how boys and girls are socialized,” it would result in having just as many female line-backer as male line-backer or just as many female fighter pilots and male fighter pilots or just as many female coal miners as male coal miners is completely absurd.

  3. @R.G. Price

    > “You can argue it, but its utter nonsense. Sex and “gender” are both biologically driven.”

    Gender, by definition, is a social construct. Our understanding of gender does have a relationship to sex (in so far as we stereotypically equate certain gender behaviors with sex), but the assumptions we make (boys like blue, girls like pink, girls like barbies, boys GI Joes etc etc) are all socially determined. This is widely acknowledged, even outside of the social sciences. See the World Health Organization for more description – http://bit.ly/bwvMhF. The WHO, as I’m sure you know, is a highly life sciences oriented organization.

    > “The fact that the care giving role is reversed in penguins (or for that matter sea horses) compared to the norm doesn’t dispute the biological basis of sexual differentiation, it merely shows that the roles may vary from species to species”

    You conceded my point, however, which is that roles in the animal kingdom are not fixed. Male and female roles do fluctuate by species.

    > “#1) Conjecture. There is no evidence that women are being “pushed” into these fields by social convention. ”

    Think about all of the jokes regard male nurses – there is a strong cultural stereotype about men who work in these fields. That alone shows that there is some social “pushing” of men or women into certain fields. The same can be seen in engineering, but with women being subject to a variety influences that discourage them from participating.

    > “#2) What’s wrong with nursing and teaching?”

    Nothing at all. Nor did I imply that there was.

    > “This is not actually proven out by the numbers. There are way too many faulty statistics at play. For example, the graph you cite lists Elementary and Middle School teachers, showing a gap in favor of men.”

    I’m well aware of the implications of the Yule-Simpson Effect. I’ve not seen any evidence to support the argument that it is at play here, however. The category “elementary and middle school teachers” is used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so it is not idiosyncratic to the publication I cited in my original post. The reality is that both at the elementary and middle school levels, women are overwhelmingly in the majority. While in some areas formulas are used to determine wages, this is by no means a fully objective process. Time taken off, supervisor evaluations (can be both highly subjective and influenced by subconscious views of gender), test scores all influence outcomes.

    > “But here is the thing, that’s not true. Those pioneering women, or women who go into traditionally male roles, like say fire fighting are exceptions to the rule. Most women DON’T WANT TO BE LIKE THEM.”

    Again, I have not seen representative survey data that supports this conclusion. Not dismissing it out of hand, but its an empirical question that I would not go 100% one way or another on without that data. I would argue, however, that *many* women do – look at the swing we’ve seen in college admissions – more women then men are interested in higher education. I think you’re downplaying this point.

    > ” its still going to be the case that most women still prefer being a day care worker over being a coal miner, even if being a coal miner pays twice as much.”

    Again, this is a social product. It is entirely possible to conceive of a world where gender roles are reversed. It is not the world we live in, but it is not a biologically rooted imperative, either.

    —-

    In general, the issue here is NOT that women are taking jobs that are not well paying and men are taking the well paying jobs. It is that within the SAME jobs, women are making less. Even if you dispute the teacher example from the graphic, this is a durable pattern across many occupational categories – the WITHIN category variation by gender is replicated. This is part of what we are discussing in this panel.

    There is an issue as well with jobs that are traditionally perceived as “feminized” being financially devalued. But again, coal mining, fire fighting and the like are masculinized occupations by social construction, not biology.

    • “You conceded my point, however, which is that roles in the animal kingdom are not fixed. Male and female roles do fluctuate by species.”

      There is no point to concede. Read what I wrote originally:

      “Men and women are biologically different. They have different capabilities, and different desires and different preferences. If this weren’t true then we would see equal division of labor in nature among other animals. This is VERY rare. We can’t very well blame the fact that women are the primary care givers and child raisers in virtually all animal species on government policy or on human social norms can we? Men and women take on different roles in virtually every species on earth, why would people be different?”

      The penguin example does nothing to contradict my original statement. Among emperor penguins the male is the one that incubates the eggs because its an extremely physically challenging endeavor, which the larger males are better suited for. This is a *very rare* case, but the reason for it actually fits in with typical sex role differentiation, i.e. the males do it because its an exceptionally physically difficult task. Never the less, the fact is that the roles are very much biologically defined.

      Your claim is that these roles aren’t biologically defined, they can be changed as simply as raising children differently. It doesn’t matter how to raise emperor penguins, you aren’t going to end up with females that can or will take on the role of incubating the eggs. It’s a biologically defined role.

      “In general, the issue here is NOT that women are taking jobs that are not well paying and men are taking the well paying jobs. It is that within the SAME jobs, women are making less.”

      There is no way to do this comparison other than on and one by one basis. Trying to do comparisons using aggregate data is just fraught with complications that make it virtually impossible. Teachers are actually an excellent example of how problematic the comparisons are because teacher compensation is very rigid and HEAVILY controlled by defined rules. There is little or no discretion in wage setting among teachers.

      Furthermore, the majority of elementary and middle school teachers AND supervisors are women. Teacher compensation is heavily set by unions, which are dominated by women! You claim here would have to be that these women are discriminating against women and giving them lower pay for equal work. Do you really believe that?

      Of course that’s not plausible, as you said, teacher income can also be influenced by:

      “Time taken off, supervisor evaluations (can be both highly subjective and influenced by subconscious views of gender), test scores all influence outcomes.”

      So, given that most of the evaluations are done BY WOMEN in this profession, and most of the employees ARE women, the other possible explanation for the data that is shown, which is simply wage disparity among the population of teachers, is that the men have higher incomes because they take less time off and have higher test scores…. That’s where your own logic leads… If that’s the case, then we aren’t really comparing apples to apples are we, and the reason for the disparity is due to “un-equal work”… (But really, the most likely explanation for the data is actually that there are more female elementary school teachers and elementary school teacher pay is lower, leading to a Simpson’s Paradox situation.)

      I mean seriously, how can anyone take seriously the notion that women don’t receive equal pay for equal work among elementary and middle school teachers? The compensation rules are largely defined by women, compensation is set almost 100% by very strict rules, and the majority of the people doing whatever subjective evaluation there might be are themselves women as well! All it does is prove the point that the statistics lie.

      Look here. This is the salary schedule for Denver County, where I happen to be:

      http://hr.dpsk12.org/dcta_salary_schedule

      This is WHAT YOU GET PAID, PERIOD. There is no deviation from this schedule. There is no opportunity to discriminate or show bias. This is the norm for teachers. Given that this is the case, you can’t very well use “workplace discrimination” as the explanation for the income differences between men and women can you?

  4. Rebecca Glauber said:

    I’m glad that my post stimulated such a debate. I know I’m late to the party and the comments have gone off if many different directions, but here are a few things that I would like to add.

    Most of the gender gap in wages is explained by job sorting. Women and men tend to hold different jobs, and women’s jobs tend to pay less than men’s jobs. Both women and men pay a wage penalty for working in “female-dominated jobs” (although, as Adia notes, men still make more than women when they work in these jobs). So yes, if women and men worked in the same jobs, the wage gap would be much smaller, but it would still exist. The three most common occupations for women in 2011 were secretaries, elementary and middle school teachers, and registered nurses (13.4% of all full-time women worked in these occupations). The three most common occupations for men in 2011 were truck drivers, managers, and supervisors of retail workers (8.8% of all full-time men worked in these occupations). Female secretaries’ earnings were 86% of male secretaries’ earnings. Female elementary and middle-school teachers’ earnings were 91% of male elementary and middle school teachers’ earnings. Not a lot of women were trucker drivers in 2011, but of those who were, they earned 71.8% of what male trucker drivers earned. A relatively large proportion of managers were female in 2011 (36%), and in that occupation, which was the second largest occupation for men, women made 74.5% of what men made. In short, there is inequality both between and within occupations.

    (The above figures come from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and their analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). http://www.iwpr.org/press-room/press-releases/new-study-men-earn-more-than-women-within-nearly-all-the-most-common-occupations

    The issue about occupational choice versus socialization and sorting is complicated and cannot be reduced to one static factor (be it biology or some other social factor). I try to look to credible studies that are peer reviewed or published by very reputable presses. Even then, I scrutinize methods and research design carefully. Here are a few studies that I find illuminating and useful.

    Shelley Correll, Steve Benard, and In Paik (http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/511799) conducted an experiment where they had research participants rate identical resumes (one a mother and the other not). It’s a gold standard experiment with randomization to treatment and control with all other factors held constant. The mothers were substantially less likely to be offered a job or promoted. They were also offered $11,000 less in salary. It’s solid research by Cornell social scientists (at the time), and it highlights contemporary discrimination against mothers.

    Here is a somewhat older study that Julie reminded me about a few days ago. Marini and Fan (http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2657428) analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (one of the most reliable datasets used by economists, sociologists, and many other social scientists to analyze causes of and trends in women’s and men’s work outcomes). They found that at career entry, women earn 84 cents for every dollar that men earn. They could explain only 30% of the gender gap in wages through workers’ individual characteristics (their race, education, major field of study, marital status, number of dependents) and their occupational aspirations (the occupation that they wanted to have by age 35) and fertility aspirations (the number of children they desired) and gender-role attitudes.

    Julie (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.11.006) recently published a study drawing on data from the well-established National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States. She found that mothers and fathers exhibited similar levels of “pro-work” behavior. They reported similar work effort, work intensity, and job engagement. Given these findings, it becomes much harder to argue that the pay penalty that mothers experience owes to their reduced work effort (an argument that is related to the selection argument that you make).

    There are so many other studies that provide qualitative accounts of women’s “decisions” in work and family. These studies help us understand the complexity surrounding constraints and choices (for example, see Sarah Damaske’s recent book: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Sociology/Women/?view=usa&ci=9780199791491

    Finally – I’m hoping that you can you send me the citation of the study that you consulted that said that 5% of the earnings gap is attributable to discrimination.

  5. @Rebecca – great points and cites. Very helpful

    @R.G. Price –

    Would like to clarify a couple of points:

    > “Among emperor penguins the male is the one that incubates the eggs because its an extremely physically challenging endeavor, which the larger males are better suited for.”

    Actually, it is because the females have expended so much effort up to that point that they could not continue. It is not possible to observe the counterfactual (i.e. to argue that female penguins would not be able to incubate the egg even if they were physically up for the task). But I digress. The fundamental point here is that sex roles are not static in nature – there is variation. Again, that is the only point I’m trying to make.

    And I don’t discount the role of biology. I study health care, for example, which is an arena where both biology and social conditions are important for determining individual outcomes. For most chronic health conditions, genetic predisposition accounts for anywhere between 10%-30% of the variation in mortality, with social factors contributing additional risk (see http://bit.ly/KjRjVu for Williams and colleagues’ excellent summary of this literature as it applies to race). So, I do not fully discount biology or genes as contributing causes of phenomena.

    What I am not, however, is someone who believes in biological or genetic determinism. We may have biological or genetic cues, but they do not override other factors (think of those who have the genes for brown eyes, a dominant trait, but have blue – see http://1.usa.gov/aZ0MUX for description of phenomena). So, biology matters, but is not 100% (or even a majority %) predictive of outcomes

    > “I mean seriously, how can anyone take seriously the notion that women don’t receive equal pay for equal work among elementary and middle school teachers? The compensation rules are largely defined by women, compensation is set almost 100% by very strict rules, and the majority of the people doing whatever subjective evaluation there might be are themselves women as well! All it does is prove the point that the statistics lie.”

    It is not true that the majority of supervisors in education are female. If you look at the distribution of women in “front line” teaching positions, they hold the majority in *every* category of teachers except those who work in postsecondary education (see http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.pdf for latest data).

    However, if you look at the distribution of women in principal and superintendent positions in districts, men hold the majority in both positions (see report from the Rand Corporation – http://bit.ly/KrdsTY). So, although women dominate the profession of teaching, they do not similarly dominate the supervisory roles within that profession.

    Even if the schools in Denver use what appears to be a “subjective” system for determining raises, that does not mean it is the case everywhere (that would be the atomistic fallacy). Similarly, though national statistics over and over again show wage gaps, that does not mean that wage gaps exist in every single district (that would be the ecological fallacy). However, their durability across time, occupational category and study suggest that this is not a statistical aberration.

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