Monday, March 2, 2009

Something more offensive from the NYT

by Molly Borowitz

We've all known for years now that women earn less than men holding the same jobs -- but now The New York Times is providing new data on how much less, in which fields, and why. Check out this snazzy interactive graphic to take a closer look at how the wage gaps break down within various professions in the United States. As a prospective editor (women make 17% less than men) and eventual professor (women make 22% less than men), this article isn't exactly providing me with welcome news. But what disturbs me even more than the fact that I'll be making 20% less money than my male colleagues is the explanation The New York Times has provided for the payscale inequity.

Apparently, some economists credit men's additional work experience and tendency to work more hours. Others turn to "personal choices," assuming that women opt for professions that have lighter workloads and more flexible hours -- so they can take care of the kids. And some economists say there's really no quantifiable explanation at all:

"There's no measurable way to explain the gaps within occupations," said Barry T. Hirsh, a labor economist at Georgia State University. "Other wage gaps, like racial gaps, can be almost fully explained by factoring in the differences in education, geography and age."

But the data on women's wage gaps covers all races, ethnicities, and locales -- and women line up one-to-one with men in terms of age and geographic dispersal (i.e., women aren't clustered or concentrated in specific regions of the country...unless there's some new feminist colony I haven't heard about, in which case, sign me up!) And with more women then men enrolling in college these days, shouldn't the education gap be closing? Perhaps -- but that doesn't erase the "personal choice" argument I mentioned above. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the same people who provided the above data on college enrollment -- women are just more likely to choose fields in which lots of women already work:

The polarization of the labor market, where women choose careers that already have high percentages of women while men choose careers dominated by men, is thought to account for a large part of the overall gap. More women work in the service sector, where wages are low. Higher percentages of men are in management and business. Even within some of the most lucrative occupations, like medicine and law, women have migrated to specialties that earn less than others. A female doctor, for example, may choose family practice over surgery.

Here's my question to you, Bureau of Labor Statistics -- are yall sure we can call that a choice? I'm not so confident. How about: women are more likely to succeed in careers that already have high percentages of women? Or even, women are more likely to work until retirement age in fields that already have high percentages of women? Let's be completely honest: we all admire those brave, pioneering women who were the first in their fields (props to you, Elizabeth Blackwell!), but their experiences and the resistance they encountered don't necessarily make us eager to follow in their footsteps. Stephanie Boraas, another economist from the BLS, figures we probably shouldn't, anyway -- because most of us need enough time at home to take care of the kids:

"Desire for a certain flexibility or a certain lifestyle drives career choices," said Stephanie Boraas, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Women often choose jobs that have more flexible hours, which can work well with child care."

I'm not going to lie, yall -- I want kids, too. And I want a job that allows me to see them for more than five minutes a day. But again, there's so much wrong with the way these decisions are portrayed. Of course some women want their families to come first -- and some men do, too. But the fact remains that at this point in time, men are at much greater liberty to make that decision, with fewer outside factors and pressures, than women are. I really think we ought to stop talking about the wage gap in terms of choices, and start talking about it in terms of options.


At March 3, 2009 at 11:49 PM , Anonymous AC said...

Unless you plan to petition Mother Nature, choices are choices. Nobody's coralling women into those professions, and just because you don't like what women choose doesn't mean that the system is broken.


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