The Gender Pay Gap Situation
Despite numerous feminist movements and policies put in place to promote gender inequality, women still do not get paid as much as men. The gender pay gap is the difference between what the average man and woman makes. Wade (2018) found that full time working women make $0.82 for every dollar that a full time working man makes. The gap has slowly gotten smaller since women were first allowed to work, however, it still persists. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2018), “if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 40 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity.” If unequal pay persists for another 40 years, it may cause significant problems for our economy. The gender pay gap is caused by gender job segregation, discrimination, and the ideologies about motherhood and work.
“Gender job segregation is the practice of filling occupations with mostly male or mostly female workers,” (Wade, 2018, p. 326). People often associate different jobs with different genders. For example, construction work is seen as masculine, whereas, childcare work is seen as more feminine. People associate gender with these jobs based off of the stereotypical traits that each gender has. For example, men are seen as strong and tough which would make them good construction workers, and women are seen as compassionate and nurturing which would make them good caregivers. According to Cech (2013), gender job segregation is one of the largest factors contributing to the gender pay gap.
How it works
Wade (2018) found that there are three main hypotheses that explain the cause of gender job segregation: socialization hypothesis, employer selection hypothesis, and the selective exit hypothesis. As discussed earlier, people associate gender with different jobs, and they also associate stereotypical traits with each gender. “The socialization hypothesis suggests that men and women respond to gender stereotypes when planning, training, and applying for jobs” (Wade, 2018, p. 329). The employer selection hypothesis is similar to the socialization hypothesis except it refers to the employer. Instead of people deciding their career based off of gender stereotypes, the employer chooses workers based on gender stereotypes. The hypothesis suggests that employers will choose men for stereotypical masculine jobs, and women for stereotypical feminine jobs (Wade, 2018, p. 330). Both of these hypotheses suggest that people strongly associate different jobs and traits with different genders, and that people base their decisions off of them. The last hypothesis is the selective exit hypothesis. According to Wade (2018), the selective exit hypothesis suggests that when women are hired into male dominated occupations, they often quit and join female dominated occupations. This often happens because they experience a negative work environment.
One of the reasons why gender job segregation is one of the largest factors contributing to the gender pay gap is because female-dominated occupations are valued less than male-dominated occupations, therefore, female-dominated occupations have significantly lower wages than male-dominated occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the top 5 highest paying jobs are more than 60% male, and 72% of the lowest paying jobs are majority female (as cited in Wade, 2018, p. 334). “A common explanation for the association is found in devaluation theory, according to which women’s work suffers from discrimination in pay because the traits and skills identifies with femininity are valued less than are masculine traits” (Mandel, 2013, p. 1183). The devaluation theory basically suggests that the reason why female-dominated occupations have lower wages is because the stereotypical traits associated with being a female are undervalued compared to those of a man. Wade (2018) states that a lot of people view work done by women as a natural part of being a woman, rather than a skill and should, therefore, be compensated less. Women’s work and skills are so undervalued that when they do move into male-occupations, those occupations start to be paid les as well. Mandel (2013) found that when more women moved into highly paid occupations, the wages decreased. When occupations start to include more women, their wages will decrease. Women will experience lower wages no matter the job, occupation, or field they go into because their traits and skills are very undervalued, and people believe they shouldn’t be paid as much because of it.
Another main contributor to the gender pay gap is gender discrimination in the workplace. Gender ideologies and stereotypes are the main cause of gender discrimination. According to Bobbitt-Zeher (2011, p. 766), “Consciously or not, individuals translate ideas about gender into discriminatory behaviors through sex categorization and gender stereotyping.” Bobbitt-Zeher (2011) also states that there are two different kind of gender stereotypes, descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes. “Descriptive stereotypes concern beliefs about traits that one gender has; prescriptive stereotypes involve beliefs about traits one gender should have” (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011, p. 766). These stereotypes can lead to discrimination when the traits associated with the gender don’t match with the traits associated with the occupation (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011). Gender stereotypes influence the way we view others, as well as how we act and behave around or towards them, therefore, they can easily lead to discrimination. There are many types of gender discrimination in the workplace. Wade (2018, p. 341) found that “Scholars have identified three forms it takes: men’s hostile and benevolent sexism, women’s double binds, and employer’s preference for men.”
Sexism in the workplace creates a hostile environment for all employees. Hostile sexism is the most obvious type of sexism in the workplace. Yi (n.d.) describes hostile sexism as “any antagonism toward women who challenge male power.” According to Wade (2018), men who hold hostile sexist beliefs think that women should be at home with their children, and these men might also see women as a threat to their identity and authority. Hostile sexism can often lead to sexual harassment and assault. Women working in male-dominated occupations have an increased risk of experiencing sexual harassment and assault. One study found that 60% of female construction workers experienced sexual harassment at least once, and 30% of these workers experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis (Shaw, Hegewisch, & Hess, 2018). Benevolent sexism is more subtle than hostile sexism. Benevolent sexism is when men try to shield and protect women from having to do masculine tasks, which can prevent women from being able to do their jobs (Wade, 2018). Yi (n.d) found that men who perpetrate benevolent sexism view women as delicate and fragile and believe that they need to be protected. Benevolent sexist beliefs stem from stereotypes about women, and ultimately hurt their chances of being able to advance their careers.
Due to the sexism and discriminate women experience at work, especially those in male-dominated occupations, women face a double bind. The Cambridge Dictionary defines double bind as “a difficult situation in which, whatever action you decide to take, you cannot escape unpleasant results” (Double bind, n.d.). Since women are stereotyped as being fragile, nurturing, emotional, and delicate, they are often seen as unsuitable for masculine occupations. Women in male-dominated occupations need to be more masculine so they are seen as more competent and suitable for their jobs. “To be successful at her job, a woman needs to do masculinity, but to be accepted by her boss, colleagues, and clients, she needs to do femininity” (Wade, 2018, p. 345). This is a lose-lose situation for women. If they are more masculine, they will succeed at their jobs, however, this makes them vulnerable for discrimination from their boss and coworkers. Wade (2018, p. 345) found that “feminine women are seen as likeable but incompetent, while women who do masculinity are seen as competent but not likeable.” This makes it impossible for women to be good at their jobs and like by their boss and coworkers. No matter what they do, they are discriminated against.
Working women also have to deal with employer’s preference for men. This is the case in both male and female-dominated occupations. The effects of sexism and double binds make it hard for women to do their jobs effectively, as well as receive proper training and feedback from their employers. This makes it harder for women to advance their careers. Women in male-dominated occupations don’t receive the same opportunities as men do. This includes promotions, raises, and training. Wade (2018, p. 346) describes the glass ceiling as “an invisible barrier between women and top positions in masculine occupations.” Even when women have the same amount, or even more, of education, training, and experience as men, they are still passed over for promotions, raises, and other opportunities. When women do get passed the glass ceiling and are hired into a top position, they have a much higher risk of failing compared to men, this is known as the glass cliff (Wade, 2018). Women face many obstacles in male-dominated occupations that are impossible to get around, but they also face many obstacles in female-dominated occupations as well. Men in feminine occupations experience the glass escalator which Wade (2018, p.347) describes as “an invisible ride to the top offered to men in female-dominated occupations.” In every occupation and field, men are given more opportunities than women despite their level of education, experience, or training. Women face impossible obstacles and are discriminated against in all occupations, which leads to them having lower wages and benefits, and eventually can lead to them having lower ambition and aspirations.
The final contributing factor to the gender pay gap is the ideologies about motherhood and work. Mothers experience an even greater amount of discrimination at work than women who don’t have any children, because of how people view ideal workers and ideal mothers. Wade (2018, p. 348) describes the ideal worker norm as “the idea that an employee should commit their energies to their job without the distraction of family responsibilities.” This concept portrays mothers as non-ideal workers because they have children. Bernard and Correll (2010,) found that women with children are seen as less qualified and committed by their employers than those without children. Since their employers view them as a less ideal worker, their pay is significantly decreased; this is referred to as the motherhood penalty (Wade, 2018). The same concept does not apply to fathers. Men with children receive an increase in pay which is known as the fatherhood premium (Wade, 2018). According to Bernard and Correl (2010), when mothers do prove themselves to be qualified and competent employees, they are still discriminated against due to prescriptive stereotypes of how mothers should act and behave. When mothers do succeed at work, then they are spending less time and effort at home with their children, which makes their boss and coworkers view them as a bad mother. Working moms experience their own double bind. If they are more focused and dedicated to caring for their children, then they are seen as bad workers, if they are focused and dedicated at work, then they are seen as bad mothers. Working mothers may also be put on what is known as the mommy track. Wade (2018, p. 349) describes the mommy track as “a workplace euphemism that refers to expecting less intense commitment from mothers, with the understanding that they’re sacrificing the right to expect equal pay, regular raises, or promotions.” This often happens after women take time off to care for their young children, which sets them back in their careers and makes it harder for them to reenter the workforce.
The gender pay gap has been negatively effecting women since they were first allowed the right to work, and despite many policies put in place to protect women’s rights and equality, the gender pay gap still persists. There are several causes that contribute to the gender pay gap including gender job segregation, discrimination, and ideologies about motherhood and work. The only way to truly diminish the gender pay gap is to fix these main causes, however, in order to do that, people will have to change all of their beliefs and ideas about women. This may seem impossible but there are smaller steps to take such as spreading awareness and educating people about the gender pay gap. Achieving equal pay would greatly help our economy and those living in poverty.
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Cech, E. (2013). The self-expressive edge of occupational sex segregation. American Journal of Sociology, 119(3), 747-789. doi:10.1086/673969
Double bind. (n.d.) In Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/double-bind
Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (2018, September 12). Pay equity & discrimination. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/
Mandel, H. (2013). Up the down staircase: Women’s upward mobility and the wage penalty for occupational feminization, 1970-2007. Social Forces, 91(4), 1183-1207. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43287497
Shaw, E., Hegewisch, A., & Hess, C. (2018, October 15). Sexual harassment and assault at work: Understanding the costs. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/publications/sexual-harassment-work-cost/
Wade, L., & Ferree, M. M. (2018). Work. Gender: Ideas, interactions, and institutions (2nd ed., pp. 320-355). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
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