Devaluing and revaluing women’s work

Women’s average pay is less than men’s. One reason for this is that the average pay in jobs dominated by women is less than that in jobs dominated by men. (The other reason is that, within a given job, men earn more than women, which is when women can actually claim wage discrimination – but that’s another story.)

So why do female-dominated jobs pay less? A new analysis of Census data from 1950 to 2000 by Asaf Levanon, Paula England and Paul Allison in Social Forces, gives us perhaps the best test yet of two different explanations:

  • Queuing: Women enter jobs that already pay less, either because employers hire them last (in the “labor queue”) or because the things women value in a job are “non-pecuniary” (such as career intermittence, or a love of cleaning).
  • Devaluation: The pay in jobs that women hold is lower because women hold them. “Women’s work” is valued less either because there is a cultural bias resulting from women’s lower social status, because it’s similar to unpaid work that many women do for “free” (like childcare), or because women are politically weaker and employers take advantage of it.

By tracking jobs across six waves of the Census, the authors can use analysis of change in the pay and gender composition of jobs to answer which came first, the women or the lower pay.

The answer (mostly): Women came first. It’s devaluation, not queuing. (This is the wagon to which Matt Huffman and I, apparently wisely, hitched our previous work.) This is especially true in the later decades.

One thing devaluation does is create a struggle to define jobs as not women’s work. A nice new analysis of that struggle, by Rachel Sherman, appears in Work & Occupations. She shows the creative ways that “personal concierges” — most of whom are women — try to sell their services without revealing that they are essentially trying to get paid for doing women’s work (to oversimplify the story).

Note this doesn’t mean devaluation is why women get paid less overall. This can also happen for other reasons, including wage discrimination within jobs. But the conclusion is important, because devaluation is much harder to sue for under current law, which requires individual acts of discrimination either in hiring (the labor queue) or wage setting (within-job pay) – both of which are hard to document.

Because it’s not about individual discrimination, policy-wise, the devaluation thesis brings us back to “comparable worth” — the legal regulation of job pay based on the qualifications and requirements of the job — which I rather weakly advocated when the Democratic majority held hearings on gender inequity way back in 2007. (Contrary to Obama’s assertions, this would be the real equal-pay-for-equal-work). Comparable worth requires government intervention in wage setting, making it the bogeyman of anti-discrimination policy.

More wives make more

The Pew Research Center put together some trends from Census data in a new report, which is getting covered by the NYTimes and others. The underlying facts for the last four decades are:

    1. Women’s earnings have risen faster, as their employment rates and hours have increased
    2. Women’s education level has risen faster, with more women than men now completing college
    3. Marriage rates have fallen slower – and divorce rates have fallen slower – for those with college degrees, so the married population is increasingly more educated than singles.

The result of all that is more married couples in which wives earn as much or more than their husbands.

The greater earnings of married women, and tendency of higher earners to marry each other, has also increased inequality between married and unmarried people – as we’ve seen before, for example with health insurance. The Pew report calculates income adjusted for household size, and shows that married people are in higher income households now:

One could conclude from this that things have gotten better for the average married man – his household income has gone up more than his individual income. (In fact, the wage premium that married men get has slipped.) That’s where you get this:

Things are sweeter than ever for the recliner kings of America’s four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath castles. Contemporary American husbands are working less, going to school less, living longer and are reaping the benefits of wives who are bringing home the big bucks more than any of their dapper “Mad Men” counterparts of the 1960s.

To keep this transformation in perspective, please note that only 22% of wives earn more than their husbands. A change, but maybe not a sea change? Also don’t forget that the wives who were not “working” were really just not getting paid for their work. I’ve tried to make the case that the movement from unpaid to paid work for women is a job shift – and a crucial one, since it changes the form of the underlying relationships.

It’s not clear how to assess the benefits – or losses – that men derive from all this. That recliner-king image assumes that employed wives still do the unpaid work of the household, but the best predictor of how much housework a woman does may be her own income.

That’s why I don’t buy this:

“When you think about it from a guy’s perspective, marriage wasn’t such a great deal,” says Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center. “It raised a household size, but it didn’t bring in a lot more income.”

What about the value of all that work the stay-at-home wife did? Maybe it was more inefficient, but the report also shows with survey data on decision-making, wives get more say-so when they earn more – the price a “recliner king” pays, willingly or not.

Keeping the mancession in perspective

Too early for women’s victory parade.

The news is promising:

The number of working moms who are the sole breadwinners in their families rose last year to an all-time high, and the number of stay-at-home dads edged higher, in a shift of traditional gender roles caused partly by massive job losses.

As Catherine Rampell has pointed out in greater detail, the new Census report by my friend Rose Kreider shows a change, but not a sea change, in the gender-and-family employment picture. The report is based on the March Current Population Survey, so we can compare March 2008 with the Great Recession March of 2009. Of particular interest is table FG1 from those reports, which provide this information:

The “mancession” idea isn’t crazy, since men have lost a lot more jobs than women – because of the industries hit hardest – but let’s keep it in perspective. Looking at the tables, you could say the number of married couples with children in which only the wife was employed increased by a whopping 37% in one year – from 1.4 million to 1.9 million. Yikes. But the graph shows how rare this condition remains: 7.4%. And the opposite condition – husband only employed, is four-times as common.

Employed men really do still outnumber employed women.  But we might want to start lowering expectations for the importance of that single number – which we may well reach someday – given men’s wage and occupational advantages and greater likelihood of working full time, while doing less housework and childcare. At least as important, the pattern of pairings – the commonness of more-employed men and less-employed women leading families with children – still skews way male.

As Kristin Smith puts it in the A.P. story:

“Women are really stepping in and helping families stay afloat. The question is whether men are stepping up and picking up the slack around home,” said Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the University of New Hampshire.

So Rosie can break for a sandwich, but if she’s aiming for a decisive victory it’s too early to rest on her laurels.

The world’s gender declaration

A major summit meeting with “400 government officials and academics from 65 countries” has concluded in Istanbul with the adoption of a declaration calling for “worldwide efforts to achieve gender equality and empower women.”

The declaration has a nice statement on gender inequality:

Gender inequality is deeply rooted in entrenched attitudes, societal institutions and market forces, therefore, political commitments at the highest international and national levels, and especially, actions at the local level are essential. Political commitments can allow the adequate establishment of policies that can target social changes and to allocate the necessary resources to achieve Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Gender is social construct. It defines and differentiates the roles, rights, responsibilities and obligations of women and men. And those differences form the basis of social norms that defines behaviors for women and men and determine their social, economic and political power.

Powerful stuff. What is this summit, and whom does it represent? (And why do they only distribute tiny versions of the summit logo?)

It is a forum for the World Family Organization, a United Nations body with representatives comprising NGOs and official agencies from almost all countries. The United States is listed as a participant, but has no officers in the executive.

A Google news search on the title of the summit produces stories from Xinhua, the Turkish Press, Hurriyet and other Turkish sources, but – go figure – no U.S. news sources. I guess there is only so much room for the issues of the day on the American screen.

Film by: Men

After visiting with women in managerial jobs, and the apparent stall in their progress – and the idea of mandating equal representation at the top of the corporate ladder (as in France and Norway) – here’s something on the cultural side: movies.

On receiving her lifetime achievement award at the Women in Film and Television Awards, Dame Helen Mirren paused to comment on sexism in the film industry:

Women represent half of the population and I want to see as many female roles as there are male roles, because at the moment the balance is very unfair. … My God, it’s changed, but it hasn’t gone nearly far enough. … It’s incredible to see now the number of women in producing and writing, and I’ve worked with wonderful female assistant directors, but I want to see more women behind the camera because in my experience there are not enough female cinematographers and that’s an area we have to keep working on.

There is extreme gender disparity in the production of top movies, as we learn in the regular reports from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. And she’s right about cinematographers in particular. The latest report on the top 250 movies of 2008 shows that just 4% had female cinematographers – unchanged from 10 years earlier.

The numbers are bleak, and not showing much in the way of long-term progress. As we get ready to look back at the decade in film, what does the industry have to show for itself? According to the Women and Hollywood blog, Hollywood Reporter‘s top ten movies of the decade list doesn’t include any directed by women. FYI, they are:

1- Letters from Iwo Jima

2-United 93

3- No Country for Old Men

4- The Fog of War

5- 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

6- Far From Heaven

7- Divine Intervention

8- Cache

9- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

10- The White Ribbon

If my interpretation of photos and names is correct, that top movie of the decade, Letters from Iwo Jima, has a cast that is only 8% female (4 out of 58 named, only one of whom has a name other than “woman,” “wife,” or “mother”). Like that other war-related classic, First Blood, a.k.a Rambo – which had only one woman, “woman on street.”

The list-makers have their own problems, of course.

(Someone who doesn’t have two children under 6 might be in a better position to nominate female-directed films of the last 10 years. Some of my favorites missed the cutoff by a little [Boys Don’t Cry, directed by Kimberly Peirce in 1999] or not so little [Daughters of the Dust, directed by Julie Dash in 1991]. Lost in Translation, directed in 2003 by Sofia Coppola, is a legitimate contender, though legacy achievements by women are in a special category. I’m open to suggestions.)

France’s 50-50 boardroom mandate?

A bigger slice of the icing.

France’s ruling party has proposed a requirement of gender balance on corporate boards for all companies on the French stock exchange within five years. Currently, only 8% of top-500 board members are women. Under the plan, companies would have 18 months to get to 20% female, and four years to get to 40%.

The proposal was inspired by a similar rule already in effect in Norway, which requires 40% female on boards. Under that rule, women’s representation increased from 16% in 2005 to 39% in 2008. In the U.S., Fortune 500 companies are at Norway’s pre-quota level, having seen an increase to just 15% in 2008, from 10% in 1995, according to Catalyst (but the pace of progress has slowed in recent years).

Corporate board representation is not same as having women in lower level management. At that level, women’s presence is much greater – slowly approaching 50% – but their egalitarian influence appears to depend on their relative status.  So the impact of a reform like that proposed in France is not clear. The tiny number of women at the top benefit, but their effect on the progress of women at lower levels is not established.

Beyond gender, other kinds of quotas are a different story. India is the largest country to impose widespread quotas to combat its caste system. Under their rules, almost half of all state college and university spots must be help for students from lower castes. The quota exist alongside anti-discrimination laws, so that the same articles of the constitution include the “prohibition of discrimination” or “equality of opportunity” as well as a clause permitting “special provision for the advancement” or “reservations in favour of” the “backward classes.” Such laws are illegal in the U.S., as post-hoc interpretations of the 14th Amendment are used to protect Whites. Affirmative action to counter underrepresentation of minorities is now only permitted in increasingly rare cases.

Women’s stalled march to the top?

You might sell books with declarations like this – “the outcome of the gender wars, if wars they were, is clear: women won” – but that’s not the story Matt Huffman, Stefanie Knauer and I tell in our just-published article in the journal Work and Occupations, “Stalled Progress? Gender Segregation and Wage Inequality Among Managers, 1980-2000.” We must have gotten distracted by some of the facts.

The story about women’s movement into positions of managerial authority is mixed.

1. Women’s entry into managerial jobs was rapid in the 1980s, and stalled markedly in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Three measures of female representation confirm the basic pattern of a stall, either at about 35% or 45%:

2. The segregation among managers increased in the 1990s. That is, when you break down the different managerial jobs – such as managers in day care centers (94% female in 2000) or parking garages and carwashes (5% female) – women were integrating new jobs in the 1980s, but in the 1990s they became more concentrated in the same jobs. We measured this segregation three different ways and got the same result. That’s too bad for them, because…

3. Holding constant age, race, education, family structure, etc., the more women there are in a managerial job, the lower the pay. On the bright side, paradoxically…

4. The overall gender earnings gap among managers shrank in the 1990s. However, although we can’t be sure yet, we suspect this was because all those new managers hired in the 1980s gained experience and improved their earnings relative to men, and the influx of lower-paid junior managers slowed.

In the end, we echo the summary Jerry Jacobs offered nearly 20 years ago, that “female managers have a long way to go,” and we conclude: “our results strongly suggest a dramatic slowing of progress for women in managerial occupations.”