Gender Inequality

What explains the workplace gender gap?
Answered by Bambi Turner and Planet Green
  • Bambi Turner

    Bambi Turner

  • Planet Green

    Planet Green

  1. At first glance, the modern workplace may appear to offer a level playing field for both men and women. Look a little closer, however, and you'll find evidence of a workplace gender gap that leaves women scrambling to keep up with their male counterparts. The statistics are grim: According to "Newsweek," women earn just 78 cents for every dollar that a man earns, which can add up to a $500,000 difference in earnings over a lifetime. Looking beyond pay, women represent just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and make up only a third of law firm partners. These gaps in pay and power continue despite the fact that women make up the majority of college and law school graduates.

    So if it's not a lack of qualified applicants or educational differences, how do we explain the workplace gender gap? Well, somebody has to raise the children. Whether because of choice, instinct or reliance on traditional gender roles, women bear the majority of the burden for raising children and maintaining their households. Women spend twice as much time as men each day engaging in primary child care, and are much more likely to spend time on chores and housework on any given day than men.

    Men work about seven hours a week more than women, but women devote 35 hours a week to child care and household chores, while men spend just 17 hours a week on these tasks. It's hard to be a so-called company woman when family takes up almost as much time as a full-time job. With fewer child-rearing duties, men are better equipped to devote their time and attention to their jobs. Given the choice between the company man and the working mom, it's easy to see why companies are more likely to invest in male employees. Faced with the fact that 60 percent of mid-level working women in the U.S. simply bail out of the workplace when they have children, it can be tough to argue against this strategy.

    One could also argue that women trade higher pay and positions of power for other benefits in the workplace. According to PBS, six out of 10 working women prefer part-time hours, flexibility or the ability to work at home to traditional work models. In a survey completed in the state of Minnesota, researchers found that women worked closer to home and enjoyed shorter commutes than their male counterparts. They were also less likely to work hours that conflicted with school or day care. Recognizing the advantages of these less tangible benefits perhaps narrows the workplace gender gap.

    Gender Qa1

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  2. The gender gap in the workplace - - where men tend to receive more pay than women for equal work and education - - is caused by a combination of social and economic factors. For one, wages are strongly linked to how many men or women are attracted to a particular type of job [source: Boraas and Rodgers]. In 1999, a woman working in a female-dominated workplace (like a school) made about 26 percent less than a woman working in a male-driven one (like a science lab). Meanwhile, a man in the same scenario only made nearly 13 percent less [source: Boraas and Rodgers]. The perception that certain jobs are better suited to men or women also displays an underlying social dynamic.

    Women also may earn less because the more hours a person works, the more he or she makes. If you work 45 hours a week instead of 40 (only 12.5 percent more time), you'll earn 44 percent more money [source: Tischler]. In 2007, only 15 percent of full-time working women worked 41 or more hours a week; nearly all men who worked full time worked the extra hours [source: BLS].

    Men may spend more time at their jobs than women do, but a 2007 study found that women put in the same amount of labor as men do per day. Women spend the extra hours doing housework and child care [source: Burda]. Studies show that having children affects women's pay. The gap that divides women with and without children and limits the career trajectory and income of mothers is called the family gap. According to "Journal of Labor Economics" author Jane Waldfogel, a study in the 1990s named childbirth as the cause of up to 50 percent of the gender wage gap. A more recent report by Michelle Budig and Paula England in "American Sociological Review" found that because of reduced work hours, skill loss or outright discrimination, American women lose seven percent of their wages per child. In "Review of Economics of the Household," authors Catalina Amueo-Dorantes and Jean Kimmel said that a combination of higher education and delayed motherhood (until after age 30) seems to eradicate this wage "penalty."

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