Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Underpaid women: Stupid Letters to the Editor

You know, I have no one to blame but myself. I know how the National Post makes my head spin, and yet some macabre force compells me to read it.

Anyways, today I found this little gem of a letter to the editor:
Underpaid women
Re: Why Men Earn More, editorial, July 23.

The bottom line is that if women want to earn as much as men, they have to behave like men in the employment marketplace. That usually means: work longer hours at intellectually challenging, personally unrewarding careers that offer a poor workplace environment, physical hazards, pay linked to performance, an imposition on nonworking lifestyle choices or some combination of the above.

Furthermore, women would have to take on more responsibilities, make family sacrifices and be more productive in the jobs they have. That's how men do it. Women can do it too, if they so choose.

Now I could politely tell the author to climb back into the cave from whence he came, and let us women go back to eating bonbons while our menfolk hunt for our dinner, but I think I'll take the high road today. Some facts might be a better response.

First, we need to get to the heart of his argument, which appears to be that women, compared to men:

  1. work shorter hours in more rewarding and challenging careers
  2. experience better workplace environments, and fewer physical hazards
  3. are payed based on something other than performance
  4. make poor lifestyle choices
  5. take less responsibilities and make fewer family sacrifices
  6. are less productive in their jobs than men.

Are any of these true?

  1. Do women work shorter hours in more rewarding and challenging careers? When all women are compared with all men in paid employment, women's earnings in 2003 averaged only 63.6% of men's. This is indeed due in part to womens' shorter average paid working hours. (Of course, when unpaid work is added, women and men both work nearly 9 hours a day). Often paid working hours are not a matter of choice; women are overrepresented in part-time, contract and temporary work, and women are less likely to be paid for overtime hours. When adjusting for the difference in working hours, the gap decreases to 70.5% - that is, women make 70.5% of the average earnings of men working full-time for a full year. Lastly, more women than men head single parent households, which significantly impacts the quantity of paid hours worked. (Most data from here, here, and here) As to whether women work more rewarding jobs, that is probably fairly subjective, but we do know that women are overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs like cashiers, food service, and child care jobs and underrepresented in the highest paying occupations like senior managment, law, and dentistry. I suppose a case could be make that scanning bar codes all day is more rewarding than looking at nasty teeth, but otherwise I think most people would prefer the higher paying jobs - for the pay, the challenge, and the status.
  2. Men do represent about 3/4 of those injured in the workplace - however, we do have labour laws for a reason. Willingness to be injured is fortunately not a requirement for a decent wage. This means we should continue trying to reduce workplace injuries overall, not demand women experience a greater share. There are other risks women face more than men: including sexism on the job, sexual harrassment, repetitive stress injuries, toxic chemicals. Do women have better working environments? Hard to say, but probably men and women both have equally shitty workplaces.
  3. Are women paid for something other than performance, more often than men? This appears to be true, but it is not exactly a good thing. Pay-for-performance tends to result in higher pay not lower pay. So, yes please, we'd like some more of that, thank you. I expect it isn't likely to happen any time soon since the kinds of jobs that reward performance aren't typically nursing, teaching, and clerical.
  4. Women make poor lifestyle choices. Where to even begin with this one. Most likely the letter writer is referring to having children, since I can't imagine what other lifestyle choices affect employment so differently for men and women. One thing: it takes both a man and a woman to make a baby, so why should a woman be poorer just because it is her body in which the fetus must grow? But, the fact is, we do, which is part of the reason reproductive choice is so important.
  5. Women take less responsibility and make fewer family sacrifices. This is sort of funny. I suppose if you were to remove child care, and husband care, and elder care from the picture, then it could be true. Also, one of the things women know when they start a family is that they are making a big sacrifice - their job opportunities and pay almost certainly decrease - unlike men, who experience the opposite. That could be one of the reasons women are delaying marriage and children longer and longer.
  6. Women are less productive than men. This I couldn't find any data on, either way. We know two things definitely improve productivity - one is technology, since improved technology allows fewer labour hours to accomplish more. The second is training and education. Neither of those are related to gender.

It is true than when women behave like men (mostly meaning not having any children), they tend to make similar wages.
The thing is, women, in some people's eyes, don't do the same work as men. They stay home having babies and knitting dirndls while the men are out hunting bear and fending off the Visigoths, so naturally they get paid less... It's easy to caricature this view (dirndls versus Visigoths, etc), but there may be some truth in it. Some research suggests that when women behave as men do--not having babies, mainly--the income gap largely disappears. If so (I won't claim the matter has been definitively settled), the question facing women is a stark one: What do you want, kids or cash?<Straight Dope>
Not very family friendly, is it?


Scott Neigh said...

Great post.

To chime in on the workplace injury front...I don't remember the reference off hand, but I know I've read something by feminist occupational health researchers from Quebec called Karen Messing and Donna Mergler arguing that part of the reason why official statistics around workplace injuries are so tilted towards men is the ways in which workplace injuries are officially defined...that is, they are defined in ways that reflect sexist ideologies in that they are more likely to recognize the kinds of injuries associated with traditionally male jobs rather than those associated with traditionally female jobs in our gender segregated employment market.

And as for women making the same as men when they "behave like men"...I'd be interested how that breaks down in terms of race and class...does it just apply to professionals and other occupational groupings that tend to be disproportionately white and middle-class, I wonder?

rich1107 said...

Well said!:)

On the productivity issue the article at this link might be helpful. One interesting point it seems to make is that female productivity increases over time while men's levels off. It also points to womens greater role in child care as a factor in productivity during the earlier years of their careers.

Anonymous said...

Gods, I know I have my misogynist moments, product of environment and all that, but I at least try and be rational about the whole thing and recognize when I'm being an idiot.

One point about job status. I read a about a study about a year ago that confirmed that most high-status jobs were dominated by men, but the interesting finding was that in instances where women managed to move into professions in high numbers and shift the demographics, the status, and pay, of those professions dropped. Basically, the high-status jobs are high-status solely based on the fact they're male-dominated.

That more than anything shows just how screwed up our society really is.