Young, educated, and gender-gapped

The 2009 gender gap among full-time workers was 19.8%. Women earn 80.2 of men’s earnings. But in certain niches and demographic groups, the gap is smaller or even reversed.

In my recent discussion with Jessica Bennet from Newsweek about her article, “I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage,” we didn’t get to discuss this line from the article:

But today, we no longer need to “marry up”: women are more educated (we make up nearly 60 percent of college graduates) and better compensated (urban women in their 20s actually outearn their male peers).

The earnings advantage they mentioned for young urban women is from an article in the New York Times from 2007, with 2005 earnings from NYC and other large cities. Nationally, young men still outearn young women, so the thinking in that article had to do with young professional women moving to concentrated areas.

However, the graphic from that article shows that women’s advantage is concentrated among Black and Latina women; among Whites, men earn more (just the city, not the suburbs, apparently was included):

So, in terms of a marriage-market disincentive, it’s stronger for Black and Latina women — especially Black women, who are the most likely of all minority groups to marry within their race/ethnicity — and have very low marriage rates. (Education gaps raise still more questions.)

Nationally, among 25-34 year-old college graduates, women make 80.7% of men’s full-time, year-round earnings. The detailed breakdown shows men more than twice as likely to be over $100,000, and women much more concentrated between $30,000 and $50,000 per year:

Source: My graph from March 2009 Census data. The Black dots show location of distribution midpoints (50th percentile).

This is a little like the ongoing fixation on whether and when (and for how long) women passed 50% of the labor force. Whether women are 49.5% or 50.5% doesn’t make much difference for how much they “dominate” the workplace. When it comes to the marriage market, or the choice about whether to marry, the single number of the earnings gap is less important than the distribution. The average gap matters less than how likely it is to find someone who earns enough to tip the scales toward marriage — and that number doesn’t have to be above your own; some people making $60,000 could benefit financially from marrying someone making $50,000.

Coming soon, earnings gaps within married and cohabiting couples…

Behind the gendered workplace

In a law review call and response, a law professor and a sociologist take on the issue of how to address gender discrimination legally.

Duke Law professor Katharine Bartlett argues in the Virginia Law Review that strengthening options for suing employers is not the answer to gender discrimination. Instead, the good intentions of employers and managers should be supported, through

strong, unambiguous norms, trust, teamwork, leadership, positive example, and opportunities to grow and advance. [On the other hand…] Excessive legal control and pressure undermine people’s sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness and thus their commitment to nondiscrimination norms.

In other words, we need more carrot and less stick to combat gender discrimination.

In response, sociologist William Bielby, who has worked on behalf of the Wal-mart women’s class-action suit, counters that, even if crude overt discrimination has diminished, not all the remaining gender inequality is caused by unconscious bias. He warns that, since the ” ‘cognitive turn’ in workplace bias discourse”:

…scholars, litigators, human resource professionals, and diversity consultants have become so enamored with the notion of ubiquitous unconscious, implicit, or hidden bias that they are quick to attribute systemic workplace racial and gender inequality to what is going on in people’s heads. Instead, it is vital to consider what is built into organizational structures, processes, and routines.

As it happens, this is the 20th anniversary of the classic article by Joan Acker, “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations” (now the second-most cited article in the history of the journal Gender & Society). In the Spring newsletter for the ASA’s OOW section (don’t ask), Acker has a brief essay in which she reiterates the premise of her original article:

“The worker” under capitalism is implicitly defined as unencumbered by any obligations other than those to the job, and work is usually organized on the basis of this assumption. Historically, women have been seen as encumbered wives and mothers and thus not real workers and not entitled to the rewards and rights of real workers.

She and her colleagues have completed a study of welfare reform — Stretched Thin: Poor Families, Welfare Work, and Welfare Reform. Now she sees welfare reform as “part of the redefinition of most women in neoliberal society.”

Equality may be defined now as the transformation of women into neoliberal gender-neutral unencumbered workers whose main efforts go to the job. This path to gender equality is impossible for many women, and some men, for whom it constitutes a fundamental contradiction: work expectations and family needs do not mesh.

Acker’s article was important for establishing the gendered nature of workplace “structures, processes and routines” that Bielby is talking about — and wrote about in the Wal-mart case. Built-in assumptions are related to ways of thinking, but they are more than that — they become established ways of doing business, imprinting organizations with patterns of inequality — especially having to do with job segregation.

My own research with Matt Huffman has helped establish that women in management positions reduce gender inequality at work (a paper forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly takes this further). We can’t say, however, if that’s because they have different assumptions about men and women, less motivation (and incentive) to discriminate, or more commitment to changing the established ways of doing things.

Working women of Wal-Mart united

The women of Wal-Mart may be closer to a settlement in their mammoth sex discrimination suit. Reports NYTimes:

In a closely watched case, a sharply divided federal appeals court on Monday ruled 6-5 that a sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart could proceed as a class action for more than a million women. The suit is the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation’s history.

I’ve used the case to teach about sex segregation and discrimination for several years, partly because of the excellent and accessible reports done by their experts, including Richard Drogan’s statistical analysis and Bill Bielby’s analysis of the company’s personnel policies and practices.

It’s a textbook case, so to speak. From Drogan’s report, fewer and fewer women as you move up the chain of command:

And Bielby’s conclusion:

[S]ubjective and discretionary features of the company’s personnel policy and practice make decisions about compensation and promotion vulnerable to gender bias.  In addition, I have concluded that there are significant deficiencies in the way the company monitors its personnel policies and practices, establishes diversity goals, and evaluates managers’ contributions to equal opportunity objectives.  Personnel policy and practice at Wal-Mart as implemented in the field has features known to be vulnerable to gender bias.  Discretionary and subjective elements of Wal-Mart’s personnel system and inadequate oversight and ineffective anti-discrimination efforts contribute to disparities between men and women in their compensation and career trajectories at the company.

Allowing the case to proceed as a class action increases the potential costs to the company astronomically, increasing the odds they’ll settle.

The new decision is here.

Equal pay day: Integration through education

This year for equal pay day, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research is focusing on occupational segregation.

We learned a few years ago that, since the 1950s, occupational gender segregation had dropped much faster for workers with college degrees. Now IWPR updates that trend to show a wide gap in segregation experienced by those with versus without BAs.

I made similar calculations a few years ago, and offered offered an explanation for why segregation could have declined faster among those with more education:

Women’s access to higher education has increased rapidly, and they now handily outnumber men graduating with four-year degrees. In the early 1970s, there were 68 women for every 100 men with college degrees in the young-adult population (ages twenty-five tothirty-four). By the early 2000s, that ratio had risen to 114 women per 100 men. Thus, even if the average employer of college graduates kept his biased evaluation of applicants stuck in the 1970s, with a constant tilting toward male résumés, his pool of employees would include more women as the applicant pool became more feminized. By this credential theory, occupations requiring college degrees should have moved toward desegregation over the last generation.

And that is what happened. In other words, educational opportunity could be the major driver in occupational integration.

Fittingly, new data released today by the Census Bureau shows women have 49% of the advanced degrees (MA, professional degree or PhD), but 58% among those ages 25-29, a harbinger of demographic trends to come. Still, in the current market (2009), men hold more than 60% of the professional and doctorate degrees (I did this in pink and blue, in keeping with recent tradition):

Also out today, the Center for American Progress has interactive maps on the career wage gap for women and the prevalence of women as primary earners in their families. Heather Boushey and colleagues summarize their findings here.

In education, gender integration and stall

From housework to the legal profession, women enter fields that were male-dominated — but men don’t reciprocate.

There is a new review of the state of gender inequality in the U.S. by Paula England. She draws on a database of trends compiled by Reeve Vanneman and colleagues, among other sources, which show a marked stall in the movement of many indicators toward gender parity.

England’s article shows some striking trends in education, for example. There was a dramatic drop in segregation of college majors from the 1970s through the mid-1908s, followed by a prolonged stall and even a recent increase:

At the doctorate level, women are approaching 50% of all PhDs, but segregation between fields is still dramatic. Engineering, math and economics remain below 30% female (engineering is below 15%), while sociology, education and psychology are becoming female-dominated.

A number of these fields show stalled progress in the last 10 years, especially the most male-dominated.

To help explain the general stall, England makes the point that the “gender revolution” — which now appears to have occurred mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, as women closed gaps in earnings, education, housework, managerial representation and occupational integration, and patriarchal attitudes became less pronounced — involved a lot more change on the part of women than it did for men.

In particular, women entered formerly-male occupations and educational specialties much more than men entered women’s. That is partly because the cultural stigma that leads to devaluation of female-dominated work remains strong. That lack of reciprocal integration by men — who have added much less housework to their daily routines than women have shed, for example — is contributing to the stall in progress for women.

Will Asian sex ratios return to normal?

I read an interesting analysis of sex ratios at birth by Christophe Guilmoto.

As sex identification technology spread through Asia, sex-selective abortion has followed, allowing for greater expression of son preference, and a skewed ratio of boys to girls. The biological average is about 105 boys for every 100 girls, and the most extreme deviation from that now is found in China and Azerbaijan, with ratios of 120:100.

China’s run-up in sex ratios follows a long evolution that saw a decline in female infanticide after the 1950s, followed by a retrenched son preference under the combination of the one-child policy and the collapse of the social welfare system — and enabled by increased access to ultrasound technology.

However, South Korea is a country that apparently reversed course, dropping from over 115:100 in the mid-1990s to near-normal now:

Guilmoto attributes South Korea’s improvement to increased educational and job opportunities for women, made possible by economic development, and anti-discrimination legislation.

He also has some interesting speculation, especially about the effect of a bubble of “surplus” men — many of whom will not be able to marry:

In such a greatly altered demographic environment, having a son who may never marry would soon represent a serious social or economic hazard. It is ironic that the very precepts that underlay the initial demand for sons (and the parallel aversion to daughters) would deal a fatal blow to the patriarchal system.

That might be wishful thinking, but something has to give.

All work and no pay

To Nicholas Kristoff, “One of the puzzles of the developing world is that women frequently do some of the hardest physical labor.”

Photo by Gretchen Draper

This is not such a puzzle in light of the general principle that the harder people work (as a group), the less money they make — and the less “productive” they are in economic terms (meaning what they produce sells for less).

I like these pictures to illustrate the principle with farmers:

Women’s backbreaking work shows the extension of the principle to include work for no pay — the hardest work of all.

Women in charge at Xerox

As we accumulate material on women in positions of workplace authority, the issue of female top executives comes up. Xerox is one highly visible case. Here are some notes.

By my sophisticated reading of stock price history at Yahoo!, the value of Xerox’s stock fell more than 75% during the 9 years the company was run by Anne Mulcahy, while the S&P 500 fell about 40%. Still, she was credited with leading the fabled “turnaround” at the company, meaning they reached bottom while she was in charge and then turned profitable again. Now the NYTimes profiles her successor, Ursula Burns, who took over last summer.

Despite her relationship with Mulcahy, to hear Burns tell it, she initially rose at Xerox by serving as executive assistant to a series of men, though later her relationship with Mulcahy was pivotal.

Mulcahy worked her way up through human resources at Xerox (where her older brother was a longtime executive), a common occupation for female managers. From that experience, she did not develop into a radical egalitarian, reflecting:

I think sometimes companies get confused with egalitarian processes that they think are the fairest, and that is not what companies need. Companies need to be very selective about identifying talent and investing in those leaders of the future.

Mulcahy is credited with overseeing early work-life experiments when she was in HR at the company, which reportedly served as an unnamed model for the books Finding Time, and Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work. Such experiments reflect the reform-minded view that modern corporations need not be essentially masculinist.

Whatever the merits of those programs, of course, Mulcahy did preside over the “first woman-to-woman transition at a Fortune 500 company,” and Burns is the first Black woman in such a position. And as such success is measured, Xerox claims a good record at the top, with women holding 32% of both executive and professional positions in the U.S. in 2007. Still, I don’t know what benefits have reached those lower down.

Those who have rigorously studied corporate diversity programs report mixed success at best, at least when it comes to diversifying management, although there is always something to cheer for. With regard to the gender of leaders, Matt Huffman and I are among those who have found evidence for an egalitarian effect of female managers on those below them, but we have not studied executives at the highest levels, where the high visibility and shareholder profit demands could have good or bad results — and where gender integration has stalled.

MBAs’ lasting gender gap

Speaking of women’s stalled march to the top

A new report from Catalyst shows a gender gap among MBAs that starts with their first job, and persists through the first decade. The analysis, based on a large online survey of high-level MBAs from the U.S., Europe and Asia that started in the late 1990s, controls for “total experience, time since MBA, first post-MBA job level, industry, and global region of work at the time of survey.”

The follow-up survey, in 2007-2008, excludes those who are not currently fully employed, and finds this big disparity in job status:

The report is a free download, and includes the full analysis.

Recession, gender and work

A couple new reports from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research are worth reading.


For the in-depth economic story of the recession, in historical context, for men, women and gender – see the new report by Heidi Hartmann and colleagues at the IWPR. Includes long-term trends in employment, unemployment and wages by race/ethnicity and gender, and policy recommendations for both the short- and long-term. They hope to offer a counter-balance to the narrow focus on men’s job losses in the recession.

They show that men’s labor force participation rates have been falling for decades – so that’s not surprising. But it’s remarkable that women’s labor force participation rates are lower now than they were 12 years ago – and that’s not because of the recession, which has only brought a slight dip (“participation” includes unemployment people and those with jobs).

When training is tracking

Another new report from IWPR finds that “women’s and men’s participation in training for traditionally ‘female’ and ‘male’ occupations is a major factor contributing to the earnings gap between women and men who received [Workforce Investment Act] services.” Thus, the job training program may be increasing occupational segregation and contributing to the gender pay gap in the long run.

That reminds me that a few years ago I reviewed a book by Sharon Mastracci called Breaking Out of the Pink Collar Ghetto, which promoted training programs to get non-college-educated women entry into male-dominated blue-collar jobs. If that doesn’t seem practical (which it didn’t to me), Mastracci argued, neither is a strategy to promote “college for all,” which we are not close to guaranteeing, while neglecting those women who end up with less education.