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She's just asking for it
March 7, 2011 8:03 AM   Subscribe

American women at work, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ratio of women's to men's earnings, for all occupations, was 81.2 percent in 2010. Of course, it was also at this level in 2005 and 2006. Give it another 40 years or so to women to get paid what men do for working the same jobs. Though the trend is stagnant at the moment (see Chart 1 on page 3 of this 2009 PDF) some are optimistic about the progress women have made.

Amidst calls that the wage gap is women's fault because they do not ask for more money, Carnegie Mellon's Linda Babcock showed people videos of men and women asking for a raise, following the exact same script. While both got more money, 'people liked the man's style and said, "Yes, pay him more." But the woman? They found her too aggressive and demanding, and this can have real consequences for a woman's career. The trick, Babcock says, is to conform to a feminine stereotype: appear friendly, warm and concerned for others above yourself.' "I gotta say, that was very depressing!" she says with a laugh.
posted by cashman (48 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
"But the woman? They found her too aggressive and demanding..."

Story of my life. Damn rhino in a china shop RIGHT HERE.
posted by jillithd at 8:13 AM on March 7, 2011


Another TEN years and there will be so many more women in the work force at all levels from entry to upper management due to demographics. So, might not have to wait that long.
posted by spicynuts at 8:17 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The BLS article links to the Monthly Labor Review Online, which still sports the web design I put into place in 1997.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:22 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actual progress would be fewer people of all genders economically beholden to corporate rat races.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on March 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Another TEN years and there will be so many more women in the work force at all levels from entry to upper management due to demographics.

You'd think so, but evidence from fields like law says no, probably not. Women have long been at or above parity at the law school level. And they're nearly at parity at the associate level (45.7% nationally) and have been for a while. But at the partner level a mere 19% are women, and at the current rate of improvement it will take until 2086 to reach parity. So don't underestimate the power of discrimination and the disparate impact of corporate, social, and government policies to overcome demographics.
posted by jedicus at 8:24 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Jedicus, as a woman lawyer who was among the associate ranks and took myself out of the partnership running - for my very own reasons and to the great dismay of most of the men I work with - I am always concerned by the lack of discussion in this area. All the studies/demands/discussions assume that partnership = success. For me, options for women = success, and I think the law does a better job with that then most. I mean, I'm now a part-time lawyer with a kid making six figures and totally happy as the primary bread winner in my family. But I'm not a partner. I don't want to be a partner, at least not right now.

the fact remains that lots of women REMOVE themselves from the workforce, temporarily or permanently. I think we need to keep breaking down barriers that require women to make this "choice" involuntarily (paid parental leave, anyone?), but I think sometimes people don't account for those things.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:28 AM on March 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


One of these has to happen before women will make as much as men:

1) Culture changes so it's acceptable for professional men to take 50% or more of childcare duties.
2) We get a working system of paid maternity/paternity leave in place, including some compensation to the employer to cancel out the loss of the employee.
3) Professional, high-achieving couples stop having kids.

Sadly, we're moving toward option 3 at the moment.
posted by miyabo at 8:33 AM on March 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Dear Women;
You were snowed. Work is not all that it is cracked up to be. I laud you for searching for wage equality, but lets examine the American - Corporate - effect of wage equality. Women entering the workforce increased the labor supply significantly. This means that the demad for labor was significantly easier to satiate, thereby causing wage stagnation for all workers. Lets just start the contextualization there, the more bodies you add labor, the less the labor is worth all around.

Now before everybody calls for my head - which I'm sure what I'm saying can be easily interpreted as - I'm not saying that this is the women's fault - nor am I saying that the latent business sexism doesn't result in Linda Babcock's results either. I'm saying that this is a second layer of this discussion which never gets mentioned - and which has an easy - albeit bloody solution. (stating "hamburger" so that you all know I'm not totally serious here.)

Start killing old white dudes. Kill them until the number of old white dudes equals the number of old white ladies in business. This is extreme, but mother nature isn't working fast enough. If they are the enemy which determines compensation, perfers the man's style in asking for more money, and has no countermeasure in valid quantities (old white women). This solves issues on a lot of levels.

#1. More job opportunity for all to float to the top, we're creating the opportunity for labor demand here.
#2. Women establish themselves as able to "get the job done" unquestionably.
#3. This is an incentive based system for management: Those that are in charge either learn to acknowledge and bypass their own predjudices, or die trying...

Anyway, now we have stagnated (actually trending down) wages as a result of a massive flux to the labor market. As others have said, you will see this on the mend in the next ten years as the boomers - those that were around at the beginning of the women's real push into the labor market - die off.

So yeah, ladies - more power to you - go for wage equality - just understand that wage equality has side effects of creating an environment where both partners HAVE to work and it becomes increasingly impossible to support a family on a single income.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:38 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


For whatever reason, women are also more likely to stop working when they have children. This may or may not be a problem that we should do something to fix, but it has to account for at least some of the difference in parity between early career and late career demographics.

Using law as an example, new associates generally take six to eight years to make partner. Given that most people finish law school in their mid twenties, that means going up for partner in their early-to-mid thirties. Right about the time most women who wind up having children are starting to have them. Taking a year or three off at that point pretty much puts a permanent end to

Following up on dpx.mfx's comment, yeah, I think this has at least as much to do about lack of options--and not just for women!--than anything else. I'm not married and have no kids, but I can totally seem myself wanting to cut back my hours should those things happen. But as hard as it is for women to get such options, for men it's almost impossible. Employers, especially professional employers, aren't really all that okay with the idea that one's primary values could be somewhere other than the office.

On one hand, I find it somehow appropriate that people who are willing to make personal sacrifices for professional success should do better professionally. Choosing one's family/kids over one's job should produce a different outcome than choosing one's job over one's family/kids. On the other hand, the choices most frequently available basically involve completely suborning one to the other rather than finding some kind of middle ground where both are given attention. Right now it seems like the sacrifices and gains aren't proportional except at the extremes, i.e. you can have no family or you can have no job. Between the two, any attempt to prioritize family can have massive job consequences. Even taking off an hour early one day a week can show up on annual reviews and cut you out of significant income growth. Situations like dpx.mfx's are hard to find.
posted by valkyryn at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Vlkyryn, that's interesting. At my old firm, the first person in our department to be on "reduced hours/flexible arrangement/part time" was a single man who wanted to travel. He was good at his job and people did not want to lose him so he was given what he asked for. The same was true for me, and many others.

My husband, a professional at a very large consumer products company, was given great paternity leave benefits. Fortunately, I knew about them, and he was willing to take them. he was the first man in his department to do so. But he suffered no ill consequences from doing so.

We both worked for large organizations where our work was easily consumed by others while we were off, and then given back to us when we returned. That isn't always true at small businesses, I think.

But, I also think that people have to start being brave enough to use what is being offered them, and asking for what they want. I know not everyone can - the single mother with three kids making $30K can't. But a lot of people can. And for those of us who think it's important need to support it - through polices and whatever, but also by not acting suprised when a man says he's going to take paternity leave, or a long vacation, or do anything that shows something - anything - other than the dollar as a priority.

It'll be slow and hard fought, but I'm hopeful that by the time my daughter enters the worforce (or doesn't), the options will be there for her. I'm lucky that they have been for me.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are a number of factors that go into this, but the family issue is chief among them. I remember seeing charts showing how men and women earn almost the same amount (100:97) until children enter the picture. I also remember the article posted on the blue some weeks back about the tenure system in the sciences: the unsurprising result was that academics are generally very happy to treat women equally, but the tenure system itself is profoundly unfriendly to people, especially women, who have children.

This leads to a reconsideration of what "fair" means in American business culture. Is it more fair to strictly pay people according to how much output they give the company, or does that system simply reproduce a deeper unfairness? How can government programs help - what are some good models in this regard? How can we reexamine our cultural expectations? How does the general opprobrium against men being stay-at-home dads - or even being parents who take time off as often as women - work against both men and women?

There's also the issue of how we compare jobs. You can have charts showing an enormous disparity between male and female lawyers, but this chart would not necessarily distinguish between associates and partners, private or public employees. Where are the women going and where are the men going? Why? What barriers are there? What's the best way to address this?

...

(I'm not discounting the study showing that women were turned down for raises more than the men, but I just don't have any particular insight on that other than "that's awful.")
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:01 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a comparison of salaries looking only at men and women who never have children. That's not the only thing happening here I'm sure, but many of the highest paying jobs basically reward people for giving all of their time and energy to a firm for their 20s and 30s. It seems intellectually dishonest to ignore the effect of time off taken for pregnancies and child-rearing. The PDF keeps crashing for me so maybe that question is already answered.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:02 AM on March 7, 2011


A few years ago Mother Jones published some pretty interesting statistics (that I am failing to find a link for now).. it basically backed up a lot of what valkyryn and dpx.mfx said: women are more likely to make choices (or have the choice in the first place) to put family before career, women are less likely to work the extreme hours that many professional careers expect of men. For better or worse.

Personally, I wish this country had either a) universal health care, or b) more professional career options that didn't involve 45+hrs a week. I make plenty. I save most of it. I would have no problem working 32 or 34hrs a week and making less, except that damn healthcare.

As to Nanukthedog's point, if there were more jobs like the ones I pine for (the 32hr a week gig) and/or universal healthcare, it would potentially reduce the supply of workers. Win win?
posted by mbatch at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Related SLNYT.
posted by rainbaby at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2011


Also, I forgot the thing I most wanted to say, which is, again, that I think the salary issue is often a red herring, because sometimes the "equal work" gets lost in the equation. A regression analysis on this stuff often shows that the reason women make less isn't because they're women - it's because they took themselves out of the work force, or work fewer hours, or haven't gotten that second degree that the man did.

Now, some of those underlying reasons are directly linked to being a parent, which might be directly linked to being a woman. But that's a different discussion.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


American women at work, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ratio of women's to men's earnings, for all occupations, was 81.2 percent in 2010. Of course, it was also at this level in 2005 and 2006. Give it another 40 years or so to women to get paid what men do for working the same jobs.

Do you not see how that last sentence is a blatant non sequitur?

The fact that women have a lower average salary than men isn't necessarily rooted in any discrimination, misogyny, or patriarchy. It might be, or it might not be. This is an important question, but it's an open question. There are any number of factors that could explain the 81% gap. Even if you can point to a study that controls for many factors, you cannot assume that the study has controlled for all factors so that the only remaining explanation of a gap is discrimination. (Of course, the commonly cited "gap" is based on no controls.)

Anyone who's interested in this topic should read the chapter in Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies called "Male and Female Facts and Fallacies."

Women outearn men in many cities.

"I'm the cause of the wage gap -- I and hundreds of thousands of women like me. I have a good education and have worked full time for 10 years. Yet throughout my career, I've made things other than money a priority."

"A Salary Gap Between Men and Women? Oh, Please." (Penelope Trunk)
posted by John Cohen at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I forgot the thing I most wanted to say, which is, again, that I think the salary issue is often a red herring, because sometimes the "equal work" gets lost in the equation. A regression analysis on this stuff often shows that the reason women make less isn't because they're women - it's because they took themselves out of the work force, or work fewer hours, or haven't gotten that second degree that the man did.

I think a lot of these issues come down to the crushing weight of societal expectations and pronouncements. I think it's a red herring to say its a red herring (heh) because the messages are non-stop - men are supposed to be the bread-winning knights and women are praised most when they are mothers who are successful.

Guys are supposed to do the dirty rough stuff while wearing blue, and girls are supposed to cook and clean while wearing pink. It's sewn into American culture so tight it is amazing. The messages come from coworkers, friends, family, mothers, grandmothers, relatives, siblings, acquaintances - strangers.

So I look at this as the vestiges of a time when it was completely accepted, and even now it is promulgated even as lip service is given to say that women can do anything and men can feel free to do things that previously would have gotten them derisive labels.
posted by cashman at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally, I wish this country had either a) universal health care, or b) more professional career options that didn't involve 45+hrs a week. I make plenty. I save most of it. I would have no problem working 32 or 34hrs a week and making less, except that damn healthcare.

I wish this country had both a) and b), but a number of deep-set cultural expectations would have to be overhauled for this to work in America.

Women outearn men in many cities.

Your link is specifically about childless women between 22 and 30.

I think it's a red herring to say its a red herring (heh) because the messages are non-stop - men are supposed to be the bread-winning knights and women are praised most when they are mothers who are successful.

I agree about the men part, and I disagree about the women part. There are conflicting messages about what women are supposed to be and do. Stay at home moms are regarded as a throwback in many quarters, especially when these women are in the same peer group as working women.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


the reason women make less isn't because they're women - it's because they took themselves out of the work force, or work fewer hours, or haven't gotten that second degree that the man did.

Yes, exactly.

However, we should realize that women now earn more of all types of degrees, undergraduate and graduate, than men.

Still, women have more of a luxury to choose to drop out of the labor force to raise children if they feel like it. Men can do this too, of course, but they face more of a stigma if they do.

(If we want to talk about "societal expectations," here's a thought-experiment: will a boy be teased more for pretending to be a stay-at-home dad or for pretending to be a mass murderer? I think we all know the answer.)

The fact that anyone who drops out of the workforce is going to make less money if s/he later re-enters the workforce is not misogyny; that's just life.
posted by John Cohen at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


eponysterical
posted by symbioid at 9:24 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guys are supposed to do the dirty rough stuff while wearing blue, and girls are supposed to cook and clean while wearing pink.

From Double X:
At this April’s conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, researcher Barbara Risman reported on a recent study, with Elizabeth Seale, of middle school boys and girls. Although the girls were deeply preoccupied with their appearance, the kind of feminine mystique that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s was virtually dead.

Not a single girl who was interviewed thought she had to play dumb or act “feminine” around boys. Girls aspired to be strong and smart, and admired other girls who were. There was no sense that it would be inappropriate for a girl to do things that used to be called masculine.

On the other hand, Risman and Seale found that the masculine mystique was alive and well, and in some ways stronger than ever. If boys participated in activities or expressed feelings traditionally viewed as feminine, they were teased, bullied, or ostracized. Boys brutally policed each other to make sure that each lived up to the masculine mystique. And most girls agreed that while it was great for a girl to like “boy” things it was not okay for a boy to like “girl” things.
posted by John Cohen at 9:25 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oddly, in line with John Cohen's boys policing boys, from the NPR article on Babcock's study, "To be clear, both men and women thought this way." (Referring to the judging of women asking for a raise).

So, in a sense, women police women just as much.
posted by k5.user at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2011


So, in a sense, women police women just as much.

FAQ: What is “internalized sexism”?
Short definition: Internalized sexism is the involuntary internalization by women of the sexist messages that are present in their societies and culture. It also the way in which women reinforce sexism by utilizing and relaying sexist messages that they’ve internalized.
posted by Jairus at 10:10 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


...and I need to paste this in any discussion of wage gaps:
Perhaps the most compelling — and potentially damning — data of all to suggest that gender has an influence comes from a 2008 study in which University of Chicago sociologist Kristen Schilt and NYU economist Matthew Wiswall examined the wage trajectories of people who underwent a sex change. Their results: even when controlling for factors like education, men who transitioned to women earned, on average, 32% less after the surgery. Women who became men, on the other hand, earned 1.5% more.
posted by Jairus at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


dpx.mfx - Did you make money a priority when you chose law school? Or, if law was your passion, you must be able to see that other people are passionate about careers that do not pay in the six figures. I'm glad that you are in a comfortable position and choose not to make money a priority. Thanks for acknowledging your luck. It isn't only $30,000 a year single mothers who don't have choices. It's the philosophy major who ends up as an administrative assistant. It's the young woman who took a few years off to travel the world or tour with a band and entered the workforce late.

The older guys who joke about retirement make some of the women I work with physically uncomfortable. They don't see a way they will ever not work, if they are lucky enough to keep their jobs.
posted by rainbaby at 10:25 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Their results: even when controlling for factors like education, men who transitioned to women earned, on average, 32% less after the surgery.

I haven't read the paper itself, so correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't this mean that the pay gap for men who transition to women is, on average, far greater than the pay gap for otherwise similarly situated cisgendered women?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:36 AM on March 7, 2011


I'm always a bit surprised when I see statistics that suggest there's still a large earnings gap. I would have thought we had gotten past that. Admittedly I haven't given this a lot of thought but personally I've never considered gender in deciding someone's salary. It just doesn't enter the picture.

Subconsciously, I'm sure there's a lot going on, I mean, it's almost impossible not to - language itself is steeped in sexism, but I'm not sure this is necessarily a bad thing. It reflects reality. Woman can get pregnant, men can't, so to discriminate (as in: distinguish) is meaningful and useful (to some degree and purpose).

Anyway, if it's still the case that women earn less than men all circumstances being equal, then I hope the track we're on will eradicate that difference as soon as possible. I would have thought we're close to that point, but if there's still some hidden (or not so hidden) mechanism that prevents that, I hope we find it and fix it.

The problem is of course that circumstances are never equal. I'm in favor of positive reinforcement to a point, but in so far as the distinction is rooted in biological differences between the sexes, I think we should be extremely careful in considering remedial measures. And whatever they may be, I believe they should be government-sanctioned rather than have those costs borne by private industry. The Scandinavian model seems to work well, but it's hard to see if that's an inherent feature of the model or just caused by other qualities of Scandinavian society.
posted by eeeeeez at 10:43 AM on March 7, 2011


I haven't read the paper itself, so correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't this mean that the pay gap for men who transition to women is, on average, far greater than the pay gap for otherwise similarly situated cisgendered women?

That would appear to be the case. My personal not-at-all-scientific thought is that the stigma of being transsexual probably accounts for why MTF women make much less and FTM men make not as much more as cisgenered women/men -- about 15%, in both cases.
posted by Jairus at 10:56 AM on March 7, 2011


I first read this as "The ratio of women's to men's EARRINGS" and was looking forward to a thread about fashion and personal grooming in the work place.

That, apparently, is for another day.
posted by Danf at 11:04 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


dpx.mfx - Did you make money a priority when you chose law school? Or, if law was your passion, you must be able to see that other people are passionate about careers that do not pay in the six figures. I'm glad that you are in a comfortable position and choose not to make money a priority. Thanks for acknowledging your luck. It isn't only $30,000 a year single mothers who don't have choices. It's the philosophy major who ends up as an administrative assistant. It's the young woman who took a few years off to travel the world or tour with a band and entered the workforce late.

Rainbaby,

You're conflating two different things I was talking about. one was specifically related to the law, in response to Jedicus's comment - I think the law provides great opprotunities and choices for women. I didn't go to law school because I wanted to make money; I went because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I lucked into a good job with people who were not assholes, and worked very hard, and was able to take advantage of options given to me at that employer to create what I deem to be a successful situation - one that did not involve partnership. Jedicus was talking about lack of women partners; my argument was simply that there are other ways to be successful in our particular field, and I'm frequently frustrated by people (and large clients especially) pulling out the lack of women partner numbers out as evidence of something bad. If women who WANT to make partner aren't making partner, that's a problem - but that's not been my experience. I wish people would focus on the different paths and definitions for "success."

When I mentioned the single mom, I was specifically talking about exercising the choice to take advantage of policies that exist at some employers - 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA, for example, for men and women. Not everyone can do that, I understand. A single income person supporting children probably can't take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But if the people who CAN do it - and many more of them "can" than "do" - the stigma associated with doing it (especially for men), would lessen. My point is, if people would take full advantage of what they can - which I acknowledge not everyone can do, and for some it will take honest to goodness bravery - I really believe the choices will trickle down. It was true at my law firm - once people saw an individual here or there successfully working from home, or part time, or taking extended leave - it became less of a scary thing to the powers that be. We were able to parlay the economic sensibilities of it all into more choices for a wider breadth of people at that particular work force (for example, extended leave for non-attorneys; parental leave for dads). Again, this doesn't always work - because maybe the bakery down the street that only employs 6 people can't have one of them missing for three months - but it's a place to start.

It was not my intention to boast about my situation; part-time/reduced schedules in the law specifically is something I'm particularly passionate about. It was not my intention to imply that there are other people out there besides single parents without choices. I hope this makes more sense.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Any time this issue comes up, people are always all, "Well, women leave to bear children, so obviously they will earn less when they come back."

Point #1: A lot of salaries are deliberately set low for women proactively, assuming that "She's just going to get pregnant and leave."

This is not fair.

Point #2: So what if a woman leaves the work force and then returns? She returns, slots into the same job doing the same work as a male colleague... but she earns 80 cents on the dollar.

This is also not fair.

Please stop hand-waving about the pregnancy thing. It's an irrelevant distraction, and a justification for keeping women's wages artificially low.

Equal work, equal pay. Why people still argue otherwise is frankly beyond me.
posted by ErikaB at 11:43 AM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Amidst calls that the wage gap is women's fault because they do not ask for more money, Carnegie Mellon's Linda Babcock showed people videos of men and women asking for a raise, following the exact same script. While both got more money, 'people liked the man's style and said, "Yes, pay him more." But the woman? They found her too aggressive and demanding, and this can have real consequences for a woman's career.
Just quoting this again from the post itself. How is the "women who ask for raises are bitches" effect the result of women taking time off to start families?
posted by Karmakaze at 11:48 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Please stop hand-waving about the pregnancy thing. It's an irrelevant distraction, and a justification for keeping women's wages artificially low.

I can't speak for other posters, but I don't regard the pregnancy thing with any hand-waving. The sexism in how women are paid is reflected in cultural expectations and in how business treat people who make arrangements to have families. We'll never achieve parity unless we deal with this.

How is the "women who ask for raises are bitches" effect the result of women taking time off to start families?

It's not, but there isn't much to be said on this topic other than "that sucks, that's a result of how people are socialized to find assertive women bitchy and assertive men admirable." At least that's how I see it. I'd love to read more insight on this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:52 AM on March 7, 2011


there isn't much to be said on this topic

To clarify: there isn't much to be said on this topic, on MetaFilter, amongst MeFites. As boyzoney as this place can be, I would imagine that we're all more or less in agreement on a lot of the things we'd say about this. Hence, less controversy, less discussion. I could be wrong.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:55 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


ErikaB, I think you may have missed a large point that people are addressing here. While I agree with Karmakaze and some other folks who have made the point that the study directly addressed in this post has little to do with anything except straight up gender in raise negotiation, nevertheless these discussions aren't complete without a discussion of the choices that people make.

In fact, take gender completely out of it. Take two females on the same career track with the same abilities, etc, etc. If one of them takes a few years off to have/raise a child, they are making a choice and because of that choice they are likely to not keep pace with the childless careerist. Fair? Who knows, but it is capitalism and the way our society works. To try to play that off as a completely sexist problem is disingenuous.

It's just like rainbaby's comment who makes the exact same mistake:

It isn't only $30,000 a year single mothers who don't have choices. It's the philosophy major who ends up as an administrative assistant. It's the young woman who took a few years off to travel the world or tour with a band and entered the workforce late.

The older guys who joke about retirement make some of the women I work with physically uncomfortable.


See, all of those comments (except, perhaps, the single mother one) has nothing to do with gender but rainbaby still couched it in such terms. She speaks of "the young woman who took a few years off to travel the world" - I know plenty of young men who made the same choice and are not as far along in their careers as men I know who started a career right out of college and stuck to it.

Rainbaby then goes on to say "older guys who joke about retirement make some of the women I work with physically uncomfortable".. I know plenty of men who feel as though they will need to work till they drop because they won't be able to afford retirement. Some of these men even took time off to travel when they were younger. Some of them even made a choice to acquire a degree, such as philosophy, that perhaps didn't afford them the kind of career choices that would allow higher wages.

None of those are gender issues, per se, they are choice issues. Should the person who takes years off traveling in their 20s make the same (everything else being equal) as a person who stuck to the grind and did not get to travel? If the answer is yes, then you're slipping down a slippery slope.
posted by mbatch at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


mbatch, I used gender terms because that's what the article/discussion is about. I know it applies both ways. Many people make choices that negitavely affect lifetime earnings. Not all of those choices are pregnancy and child rearing. There are thousands of perfectly good reasons to not earn enough money that affords one choices later in life.

I guess I'm old. I see pay and promotion disparity in my industry. Hopefully for those starting out, it will be less of an issue.
posted by rainbaby at 12:28 PM on March 7, 2011


US society may want to incentivize people to have children at a younger age in such a way that it does not impede education or work. If so, then our society would need to provide for more generous options for people to start families without taking a massive income hit. That, and/or we should set up sufficient safety nets, such as universal health care, such that you don't need such a high paying job to avoid going bankrupt because you have the audacity to require medical attention.

US society doesn't need to incentivize people to travel when they're young - at least when it comes to travel for travel's sake - so we don't need extra protections for that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:28 PM on March 7, 2011


I mean, I'm now a part-time lawyer with a kid making six figures and totally happy as the primary bread winner in my family. But I'm not a partner. I don't want to be a partner, at least not right now.

The numbers for 'of counsel' and similar positions aren't much better than for partnership positions, for what it's worth.

the fact remains that lots of women REMOVE themselves from the workforce, temporarily or permanently. I think we need to keep breaking down barriers that require women to make this "choice" involuntarily (paid parental leave, anyone?), but I think sometimes people don't account for those things.

The fact that the percentage of women who are partners is slowly but steadily increasing suggests that more women want to be partners than currently are. I'll freely admit that it's possible that, in a fully fair and just world, women might self-select to be less than half of law firm partners. But right now there is pretty clearly room for improvement.
posted by jedicus at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2011


Jedicus, fair enough, and certainly true. I just wish there was more data out there on what women want vs. what women have, instead of what men have vs. what women have. At least when people insist on talking about women vs. men.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:20 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It might also be the case there are men out there who wish they could take a break from their careers to take care of their children but who might be discouraged due to societal pressures or the lack of a part-time career track for men.
posted by gyc at 1:42 PM on March 7, 2011


US society may want to incentivize people to have children at a younger age in such a way that it does not impede education or work.

How would that work? I mean, from an employer perspective, a lot changes in 6-12 months; technology, other tools and procedures, programs and priorities. There's not a great way to drop out of the workforce and then return to it, whether it's for maternity/paternity, or medical reasons, or merely that you want to travel. You come back behind in virtually every job.

In my last job, it was made clear that the first while you take a net loss on an employee in order to make a gain on them as they get up to speed. In the case of maternity/paternity, you lose out on that future gain, plus you pay an amount while they're away, plus you again lose getting them back up to speed (only to lose them again at some point). There's a lot of potential loss to employers in incentivizing anyone to drop out of the workforce.

I agree with the premise of your argument (in that it's pro-people) but the argument you need to make is to business that it's somehow in their best interest to do this. That's a hard argument to make.
posted by dflemingecon at 2:51 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with the premise of your argument (in that it's pro-people) but the argument you need to make is to business that it's somehow in their best interest to do this. That's a hard argument to make.

One example would be to look to the Swedish child care model, in which partially-state-subsidized, partially-tax-funded child care facilities may not cost parents any more than 1-3% of their income. If you can trust your child care to be of high quality, then that's one less stressor.

The US is also unusual among first world countries - and unusual in second world countries - and even in third world countries, we're a bit of an outlier - in not having federally mandated paid maternity/paternity leave. Other first world countries appear not to have become Hobbesian nightmares for offering paid maternity/paternity leave.

Once again, however, these sorts of proposals would have little traction in America, due to cultural reasons.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:00 PM on March 7, 2011


miyabo writes "Sadly, we're moving toward option 3 at the moment."

There are too many people on the planet; option three seems fine.
posted by Mitheral at 3:38 PM on March 7, 2011


Any time this issue comes up, people are always all, "Well, women leave to bear children, so obviously they will earn less when they come back."

I kind of wish I could "half-favorite" this, because:

Point #1: A lot of salaries are deliberately set low for women proactively, assuming that "She's just going to get pregnant and leave."

This is not fair.


Yeah, absolutely. It's like how a lot of salaries are deliberately set low for women because of lingering expectations that they're going to be married, and it's the husband who will be the "real" provider.

Point #2: So what if a woman leaves the work force and then returns? She returns, slots into the same job doing the same work as a male colleague... but she earns 80 cents on the dollar.

This is also not fair.

Please stop hand-waving about the pregnancy thing. It's an irrelevant distraction, and a justification for keeping women's wages artificially low.


Well ... it's not quite that simple. You're making some assumptions; you're totally right in cases where a pregnant woman is gone for a fairly limited period of time, but extended leaves ARE relevant.

If two people get identical jobs, and then one of them eventually steps away from that, possibly for years at a time, the person who stays is going to have the benefit of multiple compounded raises. Even if the person who took a leave returns to the same position and/or title, the pay amounts simply won't match up -- one person will be closer to a starting salary for that position, and the other one won't. If they head off to look for other jobs, they're likely going to look for salaries that are based on what they had been making previously, so even at a new company, the difference will persist.

Pregnancy shouldn't be used to brush away legitimate inequality, but we shouldn't ignore the effect of prolonged absences ("Just until the kids are in school") as a factor, either. There's nothing "hand-wavy" about that.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:55 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are too many people on the planet; option three seems fine.

Actually this is interesting...the other first world countries are terrified of having a declining population, which is a pretty powerful incentive to set up a maternity leave scheme and even a "baby bonus." The US doesn't have this problem right now due to a very high immigration rate, which might explain why we don't have such a scheme.

There's a lot of potential loss to employers in incentivizing anyone to drop out of the workforce.

Some countries financially compensate the employer for the loss of their employee during maternity leave. In my opinion, this is a huge help for women's equal pay, since it reduces the risk of hiring a woman instead of a man for the position. Of course, putting a dollar value on the loss of an employee is difficult and varies by profession, but you could at least take a stab at it.
posted by miyabo at 3:58 PM on March 7, 2011


I remember seeing charts showing how men and women earn almost the same amount (100:97) until children enter the picture.

Comparing salaries of men and women who have no children, past the age of maybe 27 or so, makes no sense, because women who don't have children by choice are probably far more likely to have made that choice for the sake of their careers than their male counterparts have. That is, you're pre-selecting the women for exceptional ambition.

I also think it's interesting that, to my knowledge, there aren't any studies comparing salaries of men with partners who take care of >50 percent of housework and childcare and women in the same situation. (Yes, such a study would have exactly the same flaw.) Controlling for children implies that women who are serious about their careers shouldn't have children; controlling for amount of work required on house and children would imply something very different.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:41 PM on March 7, 2011


Who knows, but it is capitalism and the way our society works. To try to play that off as a completely sexist problem is disingenuous.

Unless you take the longer view that capitalism as we do it was set up on a sexist basis, and continues to be sexist.

It is sexist to have a system that values material production of goods over care of the young or other needy members of society. Both are absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy society. In fact, while a few widgets more or less (or toxic loans) will have little effect, not raising healthy and productive future citizens has a powerful and long-term effect. As does raising unhealthy and neglected ones and then incarcerating them when they act out.

We don't value the work of bearing and raising young (or educating them, or taking care of the aged) because women have primarily done it. That's not capitalism; that's sexism.
posted by emjaybee at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, the number of women with professional degrees is at an all-time high. More people are choosing to be childless intentionally. American women have fewer children, and bear them later. Reasonable accommodations for nursing mothers (i.e. beyond the toilet stall, thanks) and flex hours are the hot new topic.

But the wage gap for women doing the same jobs as men is STILL explained by women taking off to raise babies? Please.
posted by desuetude at 10:06 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


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