Insight Needed on Gender-Based Job Segregation


There’s an obvious and worthy goal of a new federal proposal to collect more wage data by gender and race: figuring out whether workers receive unfair pay.

Inequity harms employees, their families and undermines values that are core to many Americans. By requiring wage data from businesses with at least 100 employees, officials with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Friday they are looking to:

  • Identify ‘possible pay discrimination and assist employers in promoting equal pay’
  • ‘Help employers in conducting their own analysis of their pay practices’
  • ‘Use this pay data to assess complaints of discrimination, focus agency investigations, and identify existing pay disparities that may warrant further examination.’

The EEOC also touched on a more subtle, yet still key, goal to close the wage gap. The agency wants to gain ‘insight into pay disparities across industries and occupations,’ officials said.

Cutting occupational segregation is an important step to narrow the wage gap between men and women. That is, women need to increasingly enter well-paid jobs and industries to make as much as men. Currently, women dominate the most common low-wage occupations, such as childcare workers and home health aides.

A greater share of women working in higher-earning fields could help narrow the wage gap. Currently, women’s earnings are about 80% of men’s among full-time workers.

An employment environment that supports men and women throughout their lives — as children are born, family members require care and life evolves — would support equitable compensation. Providing paid parental leave to men and women, for example, would help workers balance demands from the office and families. An absence of gender-based penalties for attending to family matters — equally honoring men and women’s ambitions, natural desires and obligations — could boost opportunities and success for all workers.

Researchers with the NY Fed recently explored the pay gap between the sexes and found that early in their careers, there were earnings premiums for women in certain majors. But those premiums evaporated as workers approached their mid-career, perhaps due to discrimination or family-care responsibilities.



Most custodial parents don’t receive full payments


A fresh report from the U.S. Census Bureau offers a snapshot of child support in the U.S., finding:

  • A bit less than half of custodial-parent families have court orders or other financial agreements that obligated financial support from absent parents.
  • Almost 46% of custodial-parent families owed child support in 2013 received all due payments, up from 37% two decades earlier. See above chart.
  • Among custodial parents who received financial child support, the average monthly amount was $330 per month, almost 70% of the $480 due.

Cash isn’t the only support for kids

But cash isn’t the only way parents can help support kids. Last year the Journal of Marriage and Family took up the issue of “deadbeat dads,” or fathers who provide little or zero cash to support their kids. The study found some of these men do, in fact, offer valuable goods, such as clothing, gifts and food. Of note, while there are “deadbeat moms,” too, more than eight-in-10 of custodial parents are mothers, government data show.

According to the Census report, absent parents supplied non-cash support to almost 62% of custodial parents, offerings gifts, clothes, diapers, food, etc.


Low-income dads provided an average of $60 per month per child in non-cash goods, according to the study in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The authors interviewed more than 300 low-income noncustodial fathers in Austin, Texas; Philadelphia, and Charleston, S.C. between 1996 and 2003.

“I was really surprised by how much these disadvantaged guys, these truly marginally employed men, are putting all of this thought and what little resources they have into showing their children that they care,” said Kathryn Edin, a study co-author and sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University.

While non-cash support has its limitations, offering goods can provide non-custodial parents interaction with their kids.

“If fathers ‘come by’ on a routine basis to deliver the goods on which mothers rely, they can purchase regular access to the child,” the authors wrote.



Step it up, dudes…

I once read that economics is “politics in drag”—it bandies about as if it were a purely objective, value-neutral science, when in fact, it’s a vehicle for enacting deeply-held ideologies about what belongs in the public sphere—or not, the dogma of individual responsibility, and the role of collective institutions in facilitating social inclusion and equity. Or at least that’s what Dr. Nancy Folbre’s analysis of economics as a “masculine domain” means to me.

This is not to say that we should abandon the field. Quite the opposite, we need more women like Ruth and Dr. Folbre who can expertly bring “woman’s work” into the picture and make visible the productive value of and society’s collective responsibility for what has for so long been relegated to the private sphere and placed squarely upon the unpaid shoulders of women and girls.

But changing the field of economics, as with any institution, will require long-term, multi-faceted strategies both within and outside the discipline. We’re talking about challenging deeply held beliefs—not only within organizational and institutional cultures, but also at the very personal, individual level. Amen to Dr. Folbre’s assertion that “men’s reluctance to share the temporal responsibilities of family care” is a “major factor” for closing the wage gap.

But when most men in the U.S. (and not just economists) hold tightly to the belief that they do as much housework as their wives–even though data show that they don’t, we know we’re in for an uphill battle. If we women can’t convince our male partners that the unequal distribution of household labor affects our career and earning capacities (not to mention the tradeoffs that we disproportionately bear in terms of leisure time, according to none other than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) imagine the potential resistance in the crusty corridors of the economic Old Boy’s Club.

In order to support more women in the field of economics, we need to also promote a broader dialogue about women’s equality—at home, in the workplace, and in society at large. Thankfully, we don’t have to start from scratch, as women activists, researchers, organizations and movements have spent decades getting care work on global political agendas like that of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The World Bank, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

But perhaps even more, we need dialogue that encourages us to surface and question our own assumptions and beliefs—about the gendered division of labor (among other things) and the ways that we—men and women both—intentionally and unintentionally benefit from and perpetuate it.




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