Gender wage gap Essay

                In the new age of feminism and women empowerment, the question of why men on average still make more money than women has become a pressing societal issue.  In order to clarify this situation the GAO or General Accounting Office conducted a long term study to find out the statistical answer of why and how women earn less money then men.  There conclusions are three fold.  They first concluded that once taking into account for factors such as education, place of resident, on the job training, women earned an average of 80 percent of what men earn.  Second, that work patterns among women such as part-year work, part-time work, and fewer years in the labor market than men are important factors in wages even after adjusting for education and experience.

Finally, they conclude that even after taking into account for different work patterns and differences in education and training, their model could not explain all of the earnings difference and thus other things occurring in the labor market must account for the differences.  These three conclusions surprisingly correlate to studies and theories conducted by other well establish sociologists.  They attempt to analyze why women have less job presence than men and how this gap has hurt women empowerment in the short term and the long term.  The following attempts to analyze these three theories in conjunction with the conclusions of the GAO.

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            The conclusion that after accounting for education, place of residence, and on-the-job training women still earned an average of 80 percent of what men do is effected by a theory of occupation segregation.  This theory contends that within the same jobs that women and men perform earnings are almost identical.  In fact, paying men and women different wages for the same job became explicitly illegal in 1963 Equal Pay Act.  However, the problem exists that while women and men are paid equally for the same jobs, they do not in fact perform the same jobs.  Women are segregated to female dominated occupations, while males have the mobility to take on other male dominated occupations.  Since in general male dominated occupations such as unionized manufacturing jobs pay more than women, a gap exists between women and men income ratios.  This implies that the problem is much more of a structural one than a discriminatory one.  The cases of gender discrimination in earnings has become less and less frequent since the 80s, however since women are being limited to certain roles there still exists a large income gap.  Daphne Spain’s book, Balancing Act explains that, “On average, female dominated occupations pay less well than male dominated ones” (Spain, 123).  There is hope however, as the gap between women with higher education as opposed to men are significantly lower than women without education.  This implies that occupational segregation is on the decline as more women become career oriented and take on the same jobs as men do.  Therefore sustaining the push to decrease occupational segregation is one of the key factors to narrowing the gender wage gap.

            The conclusion that work patterns, part-time work, and fewer years of actual experience are crucial factors in women wages was developed as a theory by Mincer and Polacheck.  This theory which is called the Human Capitol Theory contends that women make choices within there lives that would negatively impact their ability to make career advancements.  Since women understand that their are certain points in their lives that they must take time away from work and that in general they work less than men over a lifetime, women put less investment in themselves.  This means that they devote less time to education, and acquiring labor market skills (Spain, 126).  This implies that women understand they have to take time away from the market to provide care for their children and other non paid jobs within their family.  Thus, they train themselves to get jobs that have high initial wages but have low job growth or on the job training.  Therefore, work patterns such as irregular breaks from the labor force as well as part time work attributed to non paid obligations and low labor market experience become huge factors in how much women are paid in relations to men.  This is further evidenced by the fact that there has been a large closing of the earnings ratio gap between college graduates.  When education, occupational factors are all in line, the gap between women and men are drastically reduced.  When women have irregular work patterns, employers believe that they will not get the same return on their investments because women often leave the work force.  Therefore, they are much more willing to invest in men who they believe will mean a greater long term investment.  When women do leave the work force they suffer a penalty for the deterioration of their skills while away from the job which also contributes to lower wages.  This theory explains away many of the nagging problems with the gender gap but it has been hotly contested since it does not answer many of the questions posed by data pre 1950s.  The answers provided within the Human Capitol Theory seems to only be effective in interpreting data from the 1980s and 90s when women have experienced far more rights and equal treatment in the work force.

            The final conclusion by the GAO that despite factoring all of the above concerns on women earnings there is still an unaccountable gap between women and men wage ratios.  This conclusion parallels the “constraint” theory advocated by sociologists as opposed to economists that women still face many constraints in the work place that affects their wage rate.  These restraints include, “in particular discrimination and exclusionary practice in the labor market” (Spain, 127).  Under this theory any recent decline in the gender wage gap is the result of the decrease in discrimination in recent years brought about by legislation and law suits.  This type of gender discrimination has lessened over the years as a result of a changing perception of women’s abilities and opportunities in the wake of the civil rights movement and equal opportunity legislation.  The unexplained gaps between women and men wages are therefore accounted by the still present form of discrimination within the work place.  Sociologists argue that even in the current workplace there are underlying power structures within the workforce that support the gap between men and women.  These power structures establish rules to benefit men because they are predominantly composed of men who believe in preserving their advantage over women.  These power structures devalues the labor that women do and label them as unskilled and thus lead to these occupations having far less earnings than male dominated jobs that are labeled as skilled labor.  Without the ability to redefine the work they do as skilled, women are kept within the oppression of low paying jobs.  Although the problem of discrimination is viewed by many as overstated in our current labor market, it is nonetheless still a pressing concern.  Therefore in order to account for the continued narrowing of the gender wage gap constant scrutiny for gender discrimination must take place within the American work place.

            The push to decrease gender discrimination and equalize the earning ratios of men and women has become a pressing societal concern.  Ever since the increase media scrutiny on earnings discrimination by race, the issue of gender discrimination has also become a controversial topic.  The recent GAO study shows that while the problem of gender wage ratio has been on the decline and the gap between earnings has been narrowing, there are still existent problems within our labor market system.  Although two theories above attempt to explain away the differences between the earnings ratio, they still do not account for all of the difference in the wage gap.  Therefore, an understanding that there are still inequalities taking place within the workplace and that discrimination is still one of the major problems that American working women have to deal with is important to continue our progress on this issue.

work cited

Daphne Spain and Suzanne Bianchi, Balancing Act: Motherhood, Marriage, and Employment Among American Women, Russell Sage, 1996.

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