Gender & Economic Inequality Research Paper Starter

Gender & Economic Inequality

(Research Starters)

Despite the progress being made to improve the economic equality between the sexes around the world, economic inequality still exists. Although it would be easy to explain this phenomenon in terms of sexual discrimination in the workplace, there are actually a number of potential explanations for this observed inequality including differences in decisions made by the sexes regarding the relative priority of career and family as well as the general preparedness of the genders for being able to compete for better-paying jobs. Some of these factors are likely to change over time as society becomes more accepting of non-traditional gender roles for home and family. Other factors will change as women become better prepared to successfully compete in the job market. More research is needed to better understand the reasons for economic gender inequality so that women and men alike can be better educated about their choices between career and family and can make informed decisions. Such research can also be used to make informed policy decisions to help women become more economically successful and counteract any lingering effects of discrimination in the workplace.

Even in the early twenty-first century, women frequently do not receive the same recognition -- including salary -- for doing the same job a man does. In general, as shown in Table 1, women in the United States earn less income than men do.

The most commonly cited explanations for such statistics are sexual discrimination and glass ceilings, the differential treatment of individuals based on their sex. Although sexual discrimination can occur against either sex, in most cases in contemporary society, it occurs against women. Sexual discrimination can be exhibited in such actions as lower wages being given to one sex for the same work performed by the other sex, discounting of the characteristics or attributes of one sex in comparison with the other, or unfair hiring or promotion policies that are biased against one sex. Although there are undoubtedly cases in which sexual discrimination does account for the differences seen in pay between women and men, it is not the only explanation.

The discrepancy in earnings data is very interesting, particularly given the fact that there are a number of federal laws in place that require employers to not discriminate on the basis of various non-job-related characteristics, such as race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (Title VII), age when one is over 40 (ADEA), or disability (ADA). In addition, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that equal pay be given for equal work regardless of gender. Other laws require that various types of businesses take steps for affirmative action to hire various types of people that may be underrepresented in the workplace as well as making sexual harassment in the workplace both illegal and actionable. Despite such legal safeguards that have been created and implemented in order to help ensure gender equality in the workplace and to eliminate sexual discrimination, differences still exist between the average annual income between women and men. As shown in Figure 1, on average, men are paid more money than women in the United States. However, this difference is minimal at the lower end of the scale (e.g., the 10th percentile shown in the figure), but more marked the higher one goes, data that are often interpreted to support the existence of glass ceilings in the United States.

Factors of Inequality


Although sexual discrimination in the workplace is certainly one explanation for these differences (and it would be difficult in good faith to make the argument that sexual discrimination does not still exist), it is not the only possible explanation nor does it necessarily explain all the data. One explanation for the differences in pay between women and men is that men are more likely than women to attend graduate or professional schools that enable them to obtain high-paying jobs and professional careers. This situation is gradually changing, but men are still more likely to have the received the training or education needed for higher-paying jobs than are women. Yet even those women who do attain higher levels of educational and workplace achievement often continue to earn lower wages relative to men's in the same occupation; for example, US wage data from 2011 indicates female chief executives earned only 69 percent of what their male counterparts took home (Glynn & Wu, 2013). The causes of this phenomenon continue to be the subject of much debate.

One possible explanation is that many women are still forced (or at least feel the need) to choose between career and home. An increasing number of women attempt to work full time in a job or career while still raising a family and tending to the house. Traditionally, there has been a division of labor based on gender (i.e., women have the primary responsibility for child care while men work outside the home). This division of labor supposedly arose due to the fact that the physical capacities of women (e.g., their size, shape, and strength), their psychological and psychological makeup, and their reproductive biology made them less fit for hunting and war than men. When women did begin to work, therefore, it was historically in support roles that did not conflict with the gender roles and stereotypes of the culture: Secretaries, sales clerks, and other jobs that did not offer women the same type of upward mobility as did "male" jobs of business owners, executives, and so forth.

Work Devaluation

Further, the type of work that women typically do is often devalued. The work that women have traditionally done in the home is often seen as support work rather than skilled labor. As a result, "women's work" (e.g., nurse, secretary, flight attendant) is often valued lower than occupations traditionally considered "men's work" (e.g., physician, business executive, airline pilot). Therefore, individuals in these positions are paid less for their work in part because of this devaluation. Further, some women work part time rather than full time so that they can split their attention between career and family. Many women take maternity leave from their job when they are close to term or have just had a baby. Some women also take time off from their careers in order to be at home to raise their children before the children go to school, high school, or college, or reach other benchmark times in their lives. Although these decisions may be good for the woman and her family, they all represent significant time off from the workforce. This means that these women typically do not have the same level of work experience, education, or job skills as their male counterparts (who, for the most part, do not take time off for such activities) and are, therefore, less likely to be promoted or advance as quickly in their career paths as men. Study data appear to bear this out: research found that full-time working mothers in the United States earned 5 percent lower wages per hour per child than did their childless counterparts and working mothers in the United Kingdom earned 11 percent less (Correll, 2013; Darlington, 2012).


It is not only in the job market that there is economic inequality between the genders. Women have also shown to be overrepresented among those who live below the poverty line....

(The entire section is 3237 words.)