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Chapter 10: Gender and Gender Inequality

10.3 Gender Inequality

While the women’s movement changed American life in many ways, gender inequality persists. Let’s look at examples of such inequality, much of it taking the form of institutional discrimination, which, as we saw in Chapter 6, can occur even if it is not intended to happen. We start with gender inequality in income and the workplace and then move on to a few other spheres of life.

Income and Workplace Inequality

In the last few decades, women have entered the workplace in increasing numbers, partly, and for many women mostly, out of economic necessity and partly out of desire for the sense of self-worth and other fulfillment that comes with work. This is true not only in the United States but also in many other nations. In 2016, 56.8% of U.S. women aged 16 or older were in the labor force, compared to only 43.3% in 1970; comparable figures for men were 69.2% in 2016 and 79.7% in 1970 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). Thus, while women’s labor force participation continues to lag behind men’s, they have narrowed the gap. The figures just cited include women of retirement age. When we just look at younger women, labor force participation is even higher. For example, 71.5% of women aged 35–44 were in the labor force in 2008, compared to only 46.8% in 1970 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017).

The Gender Gap in Income

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Women have earned less money than men ever since records started being kept. Women currently earn about 80% of what men earn. Photo by rawpixel from Pexels.

Despite the gains women have made, problems persist. Perhaps the major problem is a gender gap in income. Women have earned less money than men ever since records started being kept (Reskin & Padavic, 2002). In the United States in the early 1800s, full-time women workers in agriculture and manufacturing earned less than 38% of what men earned. By 1885, they were earning about 50% of what men earned in manufacturing jobs. As the 1980s began, full-time women workers’ median weekly earnings were about 65% of men’s. Women have narrowed the gender gap in earnings since then: their weekly earnings in 2016 are 82% of men’s among full-time workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). Still, this means that for every $10,000 men earn, women earn only about $8,200. For the average worker, this gap amounts to roughly $500,000 over a lifetime of working.

As Table 10.1 “Median Annual Earnings of Full-Time, Year-Round Workers Aged 25–64 by Educational Attainment, 2015” shows, this gender gap exists for all levels of education. On the average, women with a bachelor’s degree or higher and working full time earn more than $20,000 less per year than their male counterparts.

Table 10.1 Median Annual Earnings of Full-Time, Year-Round Workers Aged 25–64 by Educational Attainment, 2015

Less than high school degree

High School Degree

Some college,  no degree

Associate’s degree

Bachelor’s degree

Master’s degree or higher

Men

$26,210

$33,980

$38,960

$42,850

$54,960

$69,530

Women

$19,970

$27,000

$29,990

$31,630

$44,780

$57,590

$ Differences

$6,240

$6,980

$8,970

$11,220

$10,180

$11,940

Gender Gap (women ÷ men)

76.2%

79.6%

77.0%

73.8%

81.5%

82.8%

Source: Data from National Center for Education Statistics (2016). Digest of Educational Statistics, 2016. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_502.30.asp

What accounts for the gender gap in earnings? A major reason is sex segregation in the workplace, which accounts for up to 45% of the gender gap (Reskin & Padavic 2002). Although women have increased their labor force participation, the workplace remains segregated by gender. Almost half of all women work in a few low paying clerical and service (e.g., waitressing) jobs, while men work in a much greater variety of jobs, including high-paying ones. Table 10.2 “Gender Segregation in the Workplace for Selected Occupations, 2017” shows that many jobs are composed primarily of women or of men. Part of the reason for this segregation is that socialization affects what jobs young men and women choose to pursue, and part of the reason is that women and men do not want to encounter difficulties they may experience if they took a job traditionally assigned to the other sex. A third reason is that sex-segregated jobs discriminate against applicants who are not the “right” sex for that job. Employers may either consciously refuse to hire someone who is the “wrong” sex for the job or have job requirements (e.g., height requirements) and workplace rules (e.g., working at night) that unintentionally make it more difficult for women to qualify for certain jobs. Although such practices and requirements are now illegal, they still continue. The sex segregation they help create contributes to the continuing gender gap between female and male workers. Occupations dominated by women tend to have lower wages and salaries. Because women are concentrated in low-paying jobs, their earnings are much lower than men’s (Reskin & Padavic, 2002).

Table 10.2 Gender Segregation in the Workplace for Selected Occupations, 2017

Occupation

% Female Workers

% Male Workers

Speech-language pathologists

98.0

2.0

Preschool and Kindergarten teachers

97.7

2.3

Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

95.0

5.0

Dental Hygienists

94.9

5.1

Receptionists

91.0

9.0

Registered nurses

89.9

10.1

Social Workers

82.5

17.5

Food servers (waiters/waitresses)

69.9

30.1

Physicians

40.0

60.0

Lawyers

37.4

62.6

Dentists

35.8

74.2

Architects

28.6

71.4

Chief Executives

28.0

72.0

Computer software engineers

18.7

81.3

Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

13.6

86.4

Mechanical Engineers

9.2

90.8

Carpenters

2.2

97.8

Electricians

2.5

97.5

Source: Data from “Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19 Jan. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm

This fact raises an important question: why do women’s jobs pay less than men’s jobs? Is it because their jobs are not important and require few skills (recalling the functional theory of stratification discussed in Chapter 5 “Groups and Organizations”)? The evidence indicates otherwise: women’s work is devalued precisely because it is women’s work, and women’s jobs thus pay less than men’s jobs because they are women’s jobs (Magnusson, 2009).

Studies of support this argument (Stone & Kuperberg, 2005; Wolford, 2005). Researchers rate various jobs in terms of their requirements and attributes that logically should affect the salaries they offer: the importance of the job, the degree of skill it requires, the level of responsibility it requires, the degree to which the employee must exercise independent judgment, and so forth. They then use these dimensions to determine what salary a job should offer. Some jobs might be “better” on some dimensions and “worse” on others but still end up with the same predicted if everything evens out.

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Some women’s jobs pay less than men’s jobs even though their comparable worth is equal to or even higher than the men’s jobs. For example, a social worker may earn less money than a probation officer, even though calculations based on comparable worth would predict that a social worker should earn at least as much.  Wikimedia Commons – Buddpaul CC BY-SA 4.0

When researchers make their calculations, they find that certain women’s jobs pay less than men’s even though their comparable worth is equal to or even higher than the men’s jobs. For example, a social worker may earn less money than a probation officer, even though calculations based on comparable worth would predict that a social worker should earn at least as much. The comparable worth research demonstrates that women’s jobs pay less than men’s jobs of comparable worth and that the average working family would earn several thousand dollars more annually if pay scales were reevaluated based on comparable worth and women were paid more for their work.

Even when women and men work in the same jobs, women often earn less than men (Sherrill, 2009), and men are more likely than women to hold leadership positions in these occupations. Census data provide ready evidence of the lower incomes women receive even in the same occupations. For example, female marketing and sales managers earn only 68% of what their male counterparts earn; female financial managers earn only 65.2% of what their male counterparts earn; female sales workers earn only 66.8%; female physical scientists earn only 66.1%; female doctors earn only 80.1%; and even female maids and housekeepers, who are almost 90% of workers in this category, earn only 85.7% of their male counterparts (U.S. Department of Labor, 2017). When variables like number of years on the job, number of hours worked per week, and size of firm are taken into account, these disparities diminish but do not disappear altogether, and it is very likely that sex discrimination (conscious or unconscious) by employers accounts for much of the remaining disparity.

Litigation has suggested or revealed specific instances of sex discrimination in earnings and employment. In July 2009, the Dell computer company, without admitting any wrongdoing, agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle a class action lawsuit, brought by former executives that alleged sex discrimination in salaries and promotions (Walsh, 2009). Earlier in the decade, a Florida jury found Outback Steakhouse liable for paying a woman site development assistant only half what it paid a man with the same title. After she trained him, Outback assigned him most of her duties, and when she complained, Outback transferred her to a clerical position. The jury awarded her $2.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2001). More recently, in 2017 and 2018, numerous lawsuits have been filed against companies such as Nike, Google, Spotify and the Detroit Free Press, alleging violations of equal-pay laws.

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Women constitute only about 16% of the top executives in the largest U.S. corporations, and women executives are paid much less than their male counterparts. These disparities reflect a “glass ceiling” that limits women’s opportunities for promotion. Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

Some of the sex discrimination in employment reflects the existence of two related phenomena, the and the . Women may be promoted in a job only to find they reach an invisible “glass ceiling” beyond which they cannot get promoted, or they may not get promoted in the first place. In the largest U.S. corporations, women constitute only about 28% of chief executives, and women executives are paid much less than their male counterparts (Jenner & Ferguson, 2009). Although these disparities stem partly from the fact that women joined the corporate ranks much more recently than men, they also reflect a glass ceiling in the corporate world that prevents qualified women from rising up above a certain level (Hymowitz, 2009). Men, on the other hand, can often ride a “glass escalator” to the top, even in female occupations. An example is seen in K-12 education, where principals typically rise from the ranks of teachers. Although men constitute only about 24% of all public school teachers, they account for about 48% of all school principals and more than 75% of school superintendents (Superville, 2018).

Lastly, researchers find that there is a difference in behavior associated with negotiating salaries and raises between women and men. Women are less likely to negotiate aggressively for higher salaries and raises, and when they do, they are more likely to be perceived negatively by their supervisors (U.S. Department of Labor, 2017). Compounding this, when people change jobs, new employers often use past salaries of a new employee to determine the salary offer they make.

Whatever the reasons for the gender gap in income, the fact that women make so much less than men means that female-headed families are especially likely to be poor. In 2014, about 31% of these families lived in poverty, compared to only 6% of married-couple families (U.C. Davis Center for Poverty Research, 2014). The term refers to the fact that female-headed households are especially likely to be poor. The gendering of poverty in this manner is one of the most significant manifestations of gender inequality in the United States.

Sexual Harassment

Another problem in workplaces and schools is , which, as defined by federal guidelines and legal rulings and statutes, consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical conduct of a sexual nature used as a condition of employment or promotion or that interferes with an individual’s job performance and creates an intimidating or hostile environment.

Although men can be, and are, sexually harassed, women are more often the targets of sexual harassment, which is often considered a form of violence against women. This gender difference exists for at least two reasons, one cultural and one structural. The cultural reason centers on the depiction of women and the socialization of men. As our discussion of the mass media and gender socialization indicated, women are still depicted in our culture as sexual objects that exist for men’s pleasure. At the same time, our culture socializes men to be sexually assertive. These two cultural beliefs combine to make men believe that they have the right to make verbal and physical advances to women in the workplace. When these advances fall into the guidelines listed here, they become sexual harassment.

The second reason that most targets of sexual harassment are women is more structural. Reflecting the gendered nature of the workplace and of the educational system, typically the men doing the harassment are in a position of power over the women they harass. A male boss harasses a female employee, or a male professor harasses a female student or employee. These men realize that subordinate women may find it difficult to resist their advances for fear of reprisals: a female employee may be fired or not promoted, and a female student may receive a bad grade.

How common is sexual harassment? This is difficult to determine, as the men who do the sexual harassment typically don’t profess their guilt, and the women who suffer it often keep quiet because of the repercussions just listed. But anonymous surveys of women employees in corporate and other settings commonly find that 40%–65% of respondents report being sexually harassed (Rospenda, Richman, & Shannon, 2009).

Sexual harassment cases continue to make headlines. In recent years, accusations, arrests and trials related to sexual harassment, misconduct, assault and rape associated with abuse committed by numerous high-profile male political leaders, judges, media figures, musicians, athletes and corporate leaders, has resulted in a growing recognition of the pervasiveness of such inequalities. Additionally, reaction to these high-profile cases has helped to fuel the anti-sexual harassment “Me Too” social movement.

Women of Color: A Triple Burden

Earlier we mentioned multicultural feminism, which stresses that women of color face difficulties for three reasons: their gender, their race, and, often, their social class, which is more frequently near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. They thus face a that manifests itself in many ways.

For example, women of color experience “extra” income inequality. Earlier we discussed the gender gap in earnings, with women earning 82% of what men earn, but women of color face both a gender gap and a racial/ethnic gap. Table 10.3 “The Race/Ethnicity and Gender Gap in Annual Earnings for Full-Time, Year-Round Workers, 2015” depicts this double gap for full-time workers. Women of all racial-ethnic groups, when compared to men from the same group, earn between 77.8 and 90.4% of their male counterparts. The minority status of these women compounds to produce an especially high gap between African American and Latina women and white men: African American women earn only 61.2% and Latina women earn only 56.3% of what white men earn.

Table 10.3 The Race-Ethnicity and Gender Gap in Annual Earnings for Full-Time, Year-Round Workers, 2015

Women’s Annual Earnings by Race-Ethnicity ($)

% of earnings of males in same racial-ethnic group

% of earnings of white males

White

$43,063

78.1%

78.1%

Black

$36,203

90.4%

61.2%

Latina

$31,109

89.7%

56.3%

Asian

$48,471

77.8%

87.3%

Source: Data from U.S. Department of Labor. (2017). Women’s Earnings and the Wage Gap. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/wb/resources/Womens_Earnings_and_the_Wage_Gap_17.pdf

These differences in income mean that African American and Latina women are poorer than white women. We noted earlier that about 31% of all female-headed families are poor. This figure masks race/ ethnic differences among such families: 21.5% of families headed by non-Latina white women are poor, compared to 40.5% of families headed by African American women and also 40.5% of families headed by Latina women (Denavas-Walt, Proctor, & Smith, 2010). While white women are poorer than white men, African American and Latina women are clearly poorer than white women.

Sexual Orientation and Inequality

A recent report by a task force of the American Psychological Association stated that “same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality” (Glassgold et al., 2009, p. v). Attitudes related to diverse sexual orientations have changed over time in the U.S. For instance, in the 1988 General Social Survey, when asked if it is wrong for same-sex adults to have sexual relations, 75% of respondents stated that it was “always wrong,” however, by 2016, almost 30 years later, only 39% gave this answer. Although this figure represents a substantial decline from the survey’s earlier findings, it is clear that many Americans remain sharply opposed to homosexuality. Not surprisingly, then, sexual orientation continues to be the source of abuse and discrimination directed toward members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community.

These individuals experience various forms of abuse, mistreatment, and discrimination that their heterosexual counterparts do not experience. In this respect, their sexuality and gender diversity is the source of a good deal of inequality. For example, gay and transgender teenagers are very often the targets of taunting, bullying, physical assault, and other abuse in schools and elsewhere that sometimes drives them to suicide or at least to experience severe emotional distress (Denizet-Lewis, 2009). Only 20 states, plus Washington, D.C., have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in employment, housing and public accommodations (ACLU, 2016). Additionally, another 2 states, Wisconsin and New Hampshire prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation only. Meanwhile, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina have laws that prevent the passage and/or enforcement of local-level nondiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ultimately, this means that it is legal in 28 states for employers to fire employees or for people to be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Household Inequality

We will talk more about the family in Chapter 12: Marriage and Families, but for now the discussion will center on housework. Someone has to do housework, and that someone is more often a woman. It takes many hours a week to clean the bathrooms, cook, shop in the grocery store, vacuum, and do everything else that needs to be done. In the 2015 American Time Use Survey, it was found that during an average day, women spend 2 hours and 15 minutes on household activities, while men spend 1 hours and 25 minutes, as demonstrated in Figure 10.4 “Average Minutes Per Day Spent on Household Activities.” Over a week’s time, this equates to women spending nearly 16 hours on household related tasks, compared to 10 hours or so spent by men on equivalent tasks.

Figure 10.4 Average Minutes Per Day Spent on Household Activities

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Source: “Charts by Topic: Household Activities.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 Dec. 2016, Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/tus/charts/household.htm

The disparity discussed above holds true even when women work full-time outside the home. Leading sociologist, Arlie Hochschild, observed in a widely cited book that women engage in a “second shift” of unpaid work when they come home from their paying job (1989).

The good news is that gender differences in housework time are smaller than a generation ago. The bad news is that a large gender difference remains, thus, in the realm of household work, then, gender inequality persists.

 

Key Terms

Comparable Worth – that men and women should be compensated the same for work that has equivalent skill level and responsibilities.

Feminization of Povertyrefers to the fact that female-headed households are especially likely to be poor.

Glass Ceiling – women may be promoted in a job only to find they reach an invisible barrier beyond which they cannot get promoted, or they may not get promoted in the first place.

Glass Escalator – men rise through the ranks easily without many hoops to jump through.

Sexual Harassment – as defined by federal guidelines and legal rulings and statutes, consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical conduct of a sexual nature used as a condition of employment or promotion or that interferes with an individual’s job performance and creates an intimidating or hostile environment.

Triple Burden – a condition faced by women of color due to inequality associated with gender, race, and social class, which is more frequently placed them near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

 

Continue to 10.4 Violence Against Women:  Rape and Pornography

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Exploring Our Social World: The Story of Us by Jean Ramirez, Rudy Hernandez, Aliza Robison, Pamela Smith, and Willie Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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