Women’s Work Still Pays Less

Hymowitz claims that when Hess, Bennett, and I point out that women earn less and are underrepresented in business and politics we “are telling half truths that don’t do women any favors.” She then argues that the real reason women earn less is that they work fewer hours, work part time or not at all after they have children, and men “work more hours and in higher-paying fields.”

Well, she is right about men working in higher-paying fields. The median wage for mostly male parking lot attendants is $9.23 per hour, which does not include tips. The median wage for mostly female child care workers is $9.12—without tips. The average annual salary for mostly male garbage collectors is $43,000; the average salary for mostly female home care aide coordinators is $30,000—and their salaries are considerably higher than those of home care aides whose median salary is $21,036. These figures do not include overtime.

Can one really argue that parking people’s cars is a more difficult, more demanding job, a more important job with more responsibility than taking care of children?

Is collecting garbage more difficult than dealing with sick, handicapped old people, many of whom are incontinent and require bedpans and changing of diapers?

When it comes to gender pay gaps in Scandinavian countries, it is interesting to note that the 2004 annual report of the Swedish National Mediation Office concludes that differences in pay “primarily reflect gender segregation in the labor market and the fact that jobs traditionally dominated by women are lower paid.” Not surprisingly, sex discrimination is not limited to the United States.

And speaking of sex discrimination, how about the lawsuit against Walmart, one of our nation’s largest employers, brought on behalf of 1.6 million women. Their lawyers provided statistical evidence that the women did not earn as much and were not promoted as often as the men. The Supreme Court rejected the case on purely technical, procedural grounds. Does Hymowitz think it likely that these women went through the trouble of bringing a lawsuit against their employer without grounds? Does she think it likely that they were working fewer hours while irrationally demanding the same pay and promotions as men?

The issue of male /female employment played a small role in my essay, which focused mainly on alternate explanations for men falling behind academically. In fact, I took most of my data from Hymowitz’s own essay and Manning Up. But Hess points to studies indicating that when male M.B.A graduates enter the workforce, they earn $4,600 more than female graduates—no children, no part time work involved here. How does Hymowitz explain this discrepancy?

As for a majority of women with young children wanting to work part time, I do not as Hymowitz suggests assume that they would “really want to be in the office.” I do assume that in today’s economy, many working class women—including those who have a husband or partner—cannot afford to stay home, even if they would prefer to. Which brings me to the serious problem of these women’s low salaries and the loss of men’s blue collar jobs.

It is not surprising that the tensions arising from high unemployment rates and low salaries, combined with a popular culture that discourages male responsibility, lead to working class families being more likely to cohabit than to marry, to be less stable than upper class families, and to have larger percentages of women raising their children alone. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the recently published National Marriage Project report, points to “a two-family model emerging in American life… While the educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families, everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones.”

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Kay Hymowitz connects several worrisome trends: Men underperform women in high school and college. Men are going to college less altogether, even at many elite schools. Men are often less likely than similarly situated women to own a home. Men earn fewer graduate degrees and are underrepresented in the new, knowledge-based economy. Hymowitz suggests three possible causes for the decline of men: the decline of the industrial economy; girls’ superiority in the context of traditional educational methods; and a third, “existential reason” — men are increasingly deprived of marriage, and thus of a key motivator to male achievement. Public policy implications may vary depending on which cause one finds most important, but they might range from pedagogical reforms to government incentives for marriage and family.

Response Essays

  • Jessica Bennett characterizes the decline of men as both “exaggerated” and sometimes “plain wrong.” Women have made great strides, but the pay gap persists across occupations, even after controlling for children and education. The recent recession has been difficult for men, but at least they’ve bounced back in the recovery; women haven’t. Elaborate concern about masculinity at best hides enduring inequality—and at worst blames women for a lengthy set of non-problems.

  • Amanda Hess argues that not much has changed for men in recent years. Juvenile behavior among adult men is nothing new; it’s part and parcel of male privilege, and it has been that way for many years. Likewise with men who underachieve in school yet go on to high-status careers, owing mostly to their networking with other men. The reason for male dominance? The Old Boys’ Club, which has never truly left us.

  • Myriam Miedzian considers the 1960s, the era that formed the parents of many of today’s underperforming men. For a generation of women, second-wave feminism opened the job market, while the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos meant educational and career success. For the same generation of men, education and career meant conformity; “do your own thing” meant having fun. Miedzian points to a wide variety of other cultural trends in a far-reaching response, but ultimately concludes that we have failed men in two ways—by placing sports and conflict ahead of study and communication, at least for them; and by culturally shutting them off from traditionally female traits, like nurture and care, and the careers associated with these traits.