By: Angela Sheu
Local News Editor
Many look to the pay gap — the difference between the median earnings of men and women employed full-time — as how employers unequally value different genders. Others refute the statistic; after all, a single number could never reflect a story as complicated as the industrial landscape of the nation. There is indeed more going on than sexist employers paying male workers more than their female counterparts, but this realization illuminates how society values men’s professional contributions more than women’s.
The occupations generally chosen by men versus women confounds direct comparison of pay rates across genders, so we must first examine why these fields pay workers differently. Historically, men have fulfilled most jobs involving manual labor, while women generally worked jobs with domestic traits and obligations: a dichotomy that continues to contribute to economic disparities. The Institute for Women’s Policy research found that, regardless of a worker’s gender, occupations that involved traditionally female domestic work — cooks, janitors, care workers — pay lower wages, on average, than those falling more in line with “men’s work” — construction laborers, industrial truck and tractor drivers. The devaluation of historically women’s occupations trivializes the onerous demands of these jobs and overlooks how integral these jobs are to society. Regardless of individual male and female workers, male-dominated fields paying more than female-dominated fields contributes to the same economic inequity, preventing equal opportunity across genders.
Aside from social predispositions, the undercompensation of women in female-dominated professions is also tied to rigid expectations that shut many women out from other professions. Some critics of the wage gap statistic cite women’s family responsibility as why their pay lags behind men, alluding to the expectations that often advantage men in the workplace — working long hours and abandoning family commitments. These expectations are not valuable contributions to the workforce; rather, they just bar the contribution of those who do not uphold the status quo. They force women’s assimilation to hostile guidelines to be equally valued, while also restraining men through the pressure to conform to a destructive work-life balance. Reforming these expectations to be flexible and inclusive both lowers barriers for women and makes working healthier for all.
Many women choosing to enter lower-paying fields or care for their families shows not that men’s and women’s work are equally valued in their respective fields, but rather how women are punished professionally for these choices. Thinking critically means upholding the responsibility to examine and address how society influences and responds to all of our choices.
(Sources: IWPR, Washington Post, Urban Institute)