This week we posed a provocative question in our ongoing crowd-sourced series "Working It Out": Is the economy a level playing field for men and women, or are the cards stacked against one sex -- as the result of workplace sexism or the natural evolution of the economy?
Your responses were fabulous: nuanced, evidence-based, and diverse. You wrestled with the fact that women were staying in school longer than men, but earning less by degree at every level. You addressed the mommy track, where what looks like sexism to researchers seems more like a family decision on an individual level. You even quoted liberally from the Bureau of Labor Statistics!
Here are the best commments so far. Keep writing, and we'll keep reading and posting.
MUCH OF WHAT WE CALL 'SEXISM' COMES DOWN TO PERSONAL CHOICES
Don't make blanket statements without apples-to-apples comparisons
Here are a couple comments on the current economy: older workers earn more than young workers. Currently older men earn more than currently older women. Currently younger women earn more than currently younger men.
If the workforce is composed more of older men and younger women (because older women work less and younger men are more likely to be unemployed) then that could explain the [gap].
We need to compare groups accurately. Saying that men with advanced degrees in science earn more than women doesn't mean much when the man is a professor on the verge of retirement and the woman is a fresh post-doc. - EconDoc
'Most of the wage gap explained ... by what women want'
Going by those same median wages, young, educated, childless women do earn more than men in an increasing number of settings.
This would seem to support the notion that employers aren't systemically sexist, at least when it comes to wage stats. I would say most of the wage gap moving forward will be explained by what women want from and are expected to give to marriage and children rather than any employer sexism ...
Due to the culture and biology of child birth and care, women have, on average, worked up to 6 months or a year less than a male counterpart. In the higher earnings fields, and the highly educated ones too, ladder climbing is extremely important to earnings. Women are much more likely to take a break from climbing that ladder due to factors that can't be fully explained by work place sexism. - wjaredh
Where 'female workers outearn men'
'I'm not sure there's discrimination or injustice'
The economy is certainly "sexist" in the sense that many of the ways to make middle class/upper middle class money if you don't have a college degree involve physical labor, and the statistical distribution of body strength is, well, favorable for men. If you're a non-Amazon woman without a college degree what (legal) paths are there to reliably end up making $60-70k/year? Maybe police officer?
The economy is also "sexist" in the sense that men still dominate the upward-mobility positions that allow people who didn't ace the SAT to still make a six figure income by working like crazy for it- commission based sales and small business ownership, for example.I'm not sure there's discrimination or injustice in either of these cases, though. Hence the quotation marks. - celestus
The 'Old Boys' Club' still rules
M and F may leave college with the same degree and unmarried state, but 10 years later, M is several levels higher than F in the organization. And even if F managed to get the same promotions as M, M is 12% better compensated. The "marriage" issue is not valid because a lot more women aren't having children until late in their careers, if at all, and the women aren't getting the promotions at the same rate as men. Statistics can be manipulated to support any view. Personal experience testifies that membership in the Old Boys' Club is still the determining factor for advancement in American business. - Exttras
'Women are constantly denigrated for not being feminine'
Women don't cut back hours because they "choose to be moms". They are forced to do more at home because their partners won't pick up the slack by changing their share of diapers and doing their share of feeding (with bottled breast milk for example), and perhaps most crucially, by being there when a child is sick, daycare is closed, etc. Someone has to do these things. So far, women are still doing most of them and that time devoted to child care isn't necessarily counted in studies on shared housework.
The economy is sexist against everyone: parental leave is essential in a modern economy. The U.S. is proving how much of a backwater it is by not having any. Ditto for universal health care.
There is a strong bias against women in trades, and in other jobs that have a high rate of accidents and death. It isn't necessarily because women don't want the work. However, I can personally attest that being isolated, ignored and passed over for help or promotion in an all-male setting like woodworking does nothing to integrate women into higher-risk occupations. Women are constantly denigrated for not being feminine in our society; yet, there are formal studies showing that more feminine women are viewed as incompetent in traditionally male-dominated industries. None of these facts add up to coincidence. They are all connected. - The Dom
'Women are sometimes perceived as being too aggressive if they negotiate'
OVERALL, THE MATRIX OF DISCRIMINATION IN THE U.S ECONOMY IS TITLED EVER SO SLIGHTLY AGAINST WOMEN
'The economy is classist, then racist, then sexist'
Is the economy sexist? Not evenly. The economy is first classist, treating the wealthy different from the poor. Within each group, the economy is racist, and within each group, the economy is sexist. And if we looked within each sex, I suspect there again would be discrimination along sexual orientation lines, when it was obvious. - RobertSF
'The goal should be equal pay for equal work. That's it.'
'THE REAL BIAS IS CLASSISM'
it's the wrong damn question. The real bias in the US economy is classism.
A wealthy woman isn't much hampered by her gender. Neither is a wealthy man.
The dog fight takes place in the lower classes, where diminishing jobs due to rising productivity are putting downward wage pressure on both men and women. And it's here that anecdotes fly and genders perceive the wrong reasons for what is happening to their wage and job prospects.
Mind you, I'm not saying that there is not some residual income disparity in the lower classes, or that sexism doesn't happen. There is, and it does. But it's much improved over where we were in the 70's. That trend has been in a good direction overall.
But the classist bias in the US economy has been growing by leaps and bounds. And that's why it's the right question to probe. - urgelt
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