Gender Discrimination in the Workplace
This paper discusses and analyzes the gender discrimination in the workplace and offers concrete ways of resolving this problem. To begin with, the economic cost of being female is that women, on average, earn less than men do. To be precise, that part of the gender pay gap that cannot be explained by relevant factors is the economy. Since the economic results of male/female work is difficult to measure and is rarely measured, this paper uses the whole gap as a proxy for the unfair part of the gap. A large part of the difference is due to discrimination against women in the labor market and in the workplace. Labor market discrimination occurs when an individual’s employment or pay is based on arbitrary factors irrelevant to job performance.
While the number and percentage of women who work for pay have been increasing for over a hundred years, this phenomenon accelerated greatly after World War II. By the end of the 1970s, a majority of women were in the workplace. Economists at the Urban Institute such as Ralph Smith, Nancy Barrett, and Nancy Gordon called this the “subtle revolution: women at work” in their 1979 book of that name. Barbara Bergmann, professor of economics, has called this “the economic emergence of women” in her 1985 book of that name.
In the 1970s, working women went from being a minority to a majority of women. In 1970, 42 percent of women worked for pay; in 1980, 51 percent of women were in the labor force. (Hartman, 2003) As of 1978, 35 million women were in the labor force, or over 50 percent of women in the population. As of 1991, 57 million American women were in the labor force, or 57 percent of all women of working age. This rate of participation is growing into the 21-st century.
In the past, it was not uncommon for single women to work for pay, especially if they were poor, black, or immigrants. Many would stop working when they got married. This custom of single women working was even stronger among the foreign born. In 1890, over 70 percent of single foreign-born women worked; by 1930, the figure was 74 percent. In the 1940s, 46 percent of all single women worked for pay (Women’s Bureau, 1994)
The crucial change in women’s participation in the labor force is that most married women now work. The change from minority status to majority status of married women working for pay came in the 1970s and continues up to this day.
Two forms of discrimination should be distinguished: Statistical discrimination, like prejudice, is judging an individual on the basis of the average characteristics of the group to which the individual belongs. An employer refuses to train a woman worker because, on average, women workers drop out of the labor force to have children, and thus the employer will not get a return on his investment. But many women today do not have children, and thus are being discriminated against statistically. (Reskin and Roos, 2004)
Taste discrimination occurs when members of one group simply do not like members of another group. Employers may not like women and will refuse to hire them unless they can pay them less. Employers can save money by under-employing women, that is, by not promoting them. The other employees may not like to have women around and certainly not as supervisors; so they may demand a wage premium to work with women. Customers may not want to buy machinery and equipment from women, and they let their suppliers know. Or customers may not want to buy cars from women. This theory sees discrimination as personal prejudice, not as a structural problem.
How does one know when discrimination has occurred? How does one measure it and fight against it?
Through standard techniques, it is possible to control for the years of education, experience, job tenure, and other factors that are relevant to productivity. If, after this done, one still finds a gender gap in earnings, then many economists claim that this residual in the gap is due to discrimination: women are paid less simply because they are women.
The good news is that the service sector of the economy is growing, and this means increasing employment opportunities for women. But the kinds of jobs that women get in the service sector are often temporary, part-time, and low paying. The new jobs are in health, child care, elder care--all the things that women have traditionally done. Group-based actions can be used to fight discrimination against women in the work place.
In sum, women now account for nearly half the labor force, but they still are not paid fairly, and they are kept out of the high-paying, high status occupations and jobs. The majority of women work in lower-level jobs. The bad news is that a woman might loose her job as inspector of construction sites in the city and could be reassigned to manage female clerical workers in the office. The good news is that many women are making inroads into formerly “male” occupations. There are women who squeeze through the steel door normally closed to women and become letter carriers, police officers and, airline pilots. We celebrate these women as pioneers in lowering the cost of being female.