Join 3,411 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Gender Gap Report 2009
October 27, 2009 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Gender Gap Report 2009 - The U.S. in a lowly 31st position. The United States, which prides itself on civil rights progress during the past half century, fell four spots from last year to stand at 31st place behind Lithuania and ahead of Namibia, according to the World Economic Forum, a nonprofit group based in Switzerland. Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, said at the launch of the report in New York: "In many ways we've been a model ... but we also have a ways to travel." Iceland and three other Nordic countries lead the world in gender equality, according to a report released on Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.

Pulling down the United States was its poor performance in political empowerment, where it ranked a lowly 61. The report is based on data that is between one and three years old. Sources included the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Development Program.
posted by VikingSword (61 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Iceland and three other Nordic countries lead the world in gender equality"

YEAH! EAT OUR DUST USA! ICELAND! ICELAND! ICELAND!

eh... I don't suppose you could give us that dust back... we're kinda short on everything these days, including dust
posted by Kattullus at 2:21 PM on October 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


An interesting and related story today on law.com: here it is.
posted by bearwife at 2:23 PM on October 27, 2009


Britain may have a lowly 15 position, but I believe it does retain ownership of that dust Kattullus mentioned.
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


One wonders if there is a causal relationship between this and this.
posted by scratch at 2:33 PM on October 27, 2009


Are we talking equality of opportunity or equality of outcomes?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:38 PM on October 27, 2009


"The report’s Index assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities."

From the second paragraph of the first link.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2009


Although if you go further down, it talks all about outcomes. So who knows?
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:52 PM on October 27, 2009


Although if you go further down, it talks all about outcomes. So who knows?

Outcomes are a lot easier to measure and harder to argue about, so of course they'll talk more about outcomes. There's probably also a presumption that assuming that (paraphrasing) all humans are created equal, outcomes will follow opportunities - so if f.ex. we see greater equality of outcomes, we are safe in assuming that this must be the result of more equal opportunities, as one is upstream from the other. Political conservatives naturally emphasize equality of opportunity and assume that inequality of outcomes would likely indicate unequal motivation; political progressives would pay more attention to equality of outcomes and inequality of outcomes would be for them an indication of problems with equality of opportunities.
posted by VikingSword at 2:58 PM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not reading that report. It was written by a woman!
posted by qvantamon at 3:02 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Young women earn more than men in big U.S. 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."

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p.357: "gender gaps by themselves say nothing about discrimination unless the slates of men and women are blank, which they are not. The only way to establish discrimination is to compare their jobs or wages when choices and qualifications are equalized. And in fact a recent [1999] study of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that childless women between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-three earn 98 cents to men's dollar. Even to people who are cynical about the motivations of American employers, this should come as no shock. In a cutthroat market, any company stupid enough to overlook qualified women or to overpay unqualified men would be driven out of business by a more meritocratic competitor."

More young women than young men have bachelor's degrees in the US. This is arguably a more meaningful indicator of freedom than raw income figures.

Many people, women and men, quite rationally choose to earn less money than they could. (I include myself and many people I know in this group.) If women are more likely than men to make such choices, the fact that women earn less overall isn't necessarily a sign of discrimination and could even be a sign of relative privilege.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2009 [13 favorites]


Looks to be more associated with outcomes, especially on the US ranking. In terms of rankings, if we break it down by category, the US only lags behind in the political arena. It exceeds the Nordic countries in the economic category, and for health and education, it's a dead heat.

Looking at the political category, we see that the highest weight, at .443 is given to the ratio of years that a woman has held the chief executive position in the last 50 years. Such a high ratio for one position probably throws it off. Looking at the criteria, they also look to be skewed towards parliamentary government. I have to wonder if they include state government in their totals, given the greater role they have in the US.
posted by zabuni at 3:10 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


An interesting and related story today on law.com

There's a first time for everything.
posted by brain_drain at 3:10 PM on October 27, 2009


"[...]any company stupid enough to overlook qualified women or to overpay unqualified men would be driven out of business by a more meritocratic competitor." [emph. mine - VS]

And then I think about Wall Street compensation (overwhelmingly men). And after that I think about the origin and development of the worldwide banking crisis. And then I laugh at Steven Pinker.
posted by VikingSword at 3:14 PM on October 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


It exceeds the Nordic countries in the economic category, and for health and education, it's a dead heat.

So American women get the same shitty health and education as American men? USA! USA! USA!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2009


If there are few women among the partners and 'rainmakers' in law firms, it can only mean one thing: women have higher moral standards than men.

And if you don't think a female boss can be mediocre, note the very public examples of two ex-CEOs (Meg Whitman & Carly Fiorina) getting into politics in California as Republicans. Nothing says "success through lack of excellence" better than a California Republican Politician.
posted by wendell at 3:30 PM on October 27, 2009


No more McDonalds for Iceland... so there's another plus.
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2009


Many people, women and men, quite rationally choose to earn less money than they could. (I include myself and many people I know in this group.) If women are more likely than men to make such choices, the fact that women earn less overall isn't necessarily a sign of discrimination and could even be a sign of relative privilege.

This would be a perfectly fine explanation, were we to ignore the blatantly obvious fact that men and women are socialized and culturalized to make the choices that they make. So to throw our hands up and say, "it's a helpless case - women don't want to be making their full potential" is a very reactionary thing to do.

Stephen Pinker, a supporter of evo. psychology, apparantly doesn't believe in socialization and would probably attribute the differences in opportunities gap to the fact that different tribes of Neanderthals... I don't know... had different amounts of crop yield or something.
posted by muddgirl at 3:43 PM on October 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


So American women get the same shitty health and education as American men? USA! USA! USA!

Interesting you should say that...

It says under "health and survival" that men and women are entirely equal in a number of countries, including Yemen. This is measured by life expectancy and sex ratio, which is understandable for ease of comparison, but misses the detail of life there. It doesn't mean, at least for Yemen, that people are living equally long and healthy lives, but rather that they die at (roughly) the same age. But if the men who die early in Yemen do so because of (for example) political violence, then is that comparable to the women who die early because of the consequences of having to bear an average six children each? Death in pregnancy/childbirth is preventable, as is the pregnancy itself - if only society's values encouraged the right policies towards reproduction.

The problem is who holds the power in that society to decide the "health and survival" of men and women. Unless the actions and beliefs of women are killing men in equal amounts as the actions and beliefs of men kill women, then that's no equality I recognize.

(The compilers of the index actually added additional date to their country profiles which make clear just how shitty it is to be a reproductive human in Yemen, yet they still give the country top ranking in that metric. What happened to the final "face value" check?)
posted by Sova at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jaltcoh: More young women than young men have bachelor's degrees in the US.

I think you'd find this to be true in most Western countries these days, though (so this, alone, doesn't indicate the US should have a higher ranking).

Zabuni: Looking at the political category, we see that the highest weight, at .443 is given to the ratio of years that a woman has held the chief executive position in the last 50 years

This is a good point. Imagine a country where a woman narrowly missed out on becoming head of state on a couple of occasions (say losing a US presidential race 51-49) versus a country where a woman had narrowly won the same race. I'm not sure you can really say that one country is more equal than the other. [For example, New Zealand had female Prime Ministers for about 11 years straight: but Jenny Shipley wasn't elected, she took over when Jim Bolger's popularity dropped, and Helen Clark barely won her third election. So NZ probably gets more points on this score than it really deserves).
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Steven Pinker, of course.

I admit that I haven't read The Blank Slate, but I have read some of his pure linguistics works that uncomfortably try to shoe-horn strict biological/evolutionary psychology arguments with little justification.
posted by muddgirl at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2009


Artw: No more McDonalds for Iceland... so there's another plus.

Here's a picture from 1993 of then-prime minister Davíð Oddsson (scroll down) who went on to become a disgraced central banker biting into a big mac when the first McDonald's opened in Iceland. This was a weird moment in recent Icelandic history, the elite symbolically welcoming the forces of globalization to Iceland. Before Icelandic elites had very much been post-colonially nationalist.
posted by Kattullus at 3:58 PM on October 27, 2009


Maybe this is because when the economy goes all pear-shaped, women might be the first ones to be laid off?
posted by dunkadunc at 4:17 PM on October 27, 2009


a recent [1999] study of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that childless women between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-three earn 98 cents to men's dollar.

So how many children did these men have? If it's relevant for one, it's relevant for the other.

Why should anyone be penalized for having kids? Answer: They shouldn't.

Compare equivalent data, and then we'll talk.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:22 PM on October 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Maybe this is because when the economy goes all pear-shaped, women might be the first ones to be laid off?

Actually, various data shows men bearing the brunt of layoffs, at least in this recession. (I don't have time to find links at the moment to cite.)
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:25 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


So how many children did these men have?

What, are you some kind of pinko Communist? Don't you realize that men heroically sacrifice and abstain from having kids, for the sake of their career? Men are willing to make sacrifices unlike the selfish women who should be rightly punished with a lesser career when they choose to have kids. And to think of all the stay at home men who take care of the kids while the women go to work to have careers - of course the men should be rewarded... oh wait...
posted by VikingSword at 4:33 PM on October 27, 2009


a recent [1999] study of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that childless women between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-three earn 98 cents to men's dollar

So as long as women stop bearing children, they can have their precious equality?

I think one point revealed by the preeminence of Nordic countries on these measures is that the decision to have children has greater or lesser consequences for gender equality depending on how supportive societies are of working mothers.
posted by palliser at 5:15 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


All I can say is, BOO-YA! Take that, Nambia.
posted by elder18 at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2009


Whoa, 31st?! Thanks - I'm totally busting out this link the next time someone claims that feminism isn't relevant or necessary in America in the year 2009.
posted by ErikaB at 5:34 PM on October 27, 2009


Jaltcoh: Many people, women and men, quite rationally choose to earn less money than they could. (I include myself and many people I know in this group.) If women are more likely than men to make such choices, the fact that women earn less overall isn't necessarily a sign of discrimination and could even be a sign of relative privilege.

muddgirl: This would be a perfectly fine explanation, were we to ignore the blatantly obvious fact that men and women are socialized and culturalized to make the choices that they make. So to throw our hands up and say, "it's a helpless case - women don't want to be making their full potential" is a very reactionary thing to do.

Indeed. This kind of myopia serves the status quo quite well. I often find myself dismayed at the overly individualistic views of so many media pundits (and others) on the "gender gap." It's as if they can't even conceive of the possibility that social systems and culture may influence individual behavior every bit as much as - or even more than - individual biology, personal motivation, etc. Instead, it seems they'd rather pretend that problems like this aren't about systems at all, only about individuals who have made poor choices and thereby brought their fate upon themselves.

But the influence of systemic bias against women can - and, in fact, does - co-exist right alongside the influence of individual choices. The two aren't mutually exclusive, and individual behavior doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's possible to acknowledge the role that individual decisions play in these widespread and troubling patterns while also recognizing and pointing out the reality that this behavior takes shape in a context that is problematic for women as a whole.
posted by velvet winter at 6:42 PM on October 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dudes, I live in one of the nordic countries but every time I meet a woman in any higher position I naturally assume shes ten times more competent than the men around her. I don't think this is outrageous in any way, I'm a man btw.

And then I meet US women at similar levels and they are like fucking superhumans while the men are just as mediocre as the rest of the guys. So yeah USA, you suck!
posted by uandt at 7:41 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why should anyone be penalized for having kids? Answer: They shouldn't.

Bull. Having kids is a lifestyle choice. It means making something other than work your top priority, and that tradeoff is going to have consequences. Just like deciding to make anything else non-work-related the main focus of your life is going to involve tradeoffs.

There's no right or wrong choice; everyone should be free to do what they think is going to make them happy, after weighing all the pros and cons.

It's a little ridiculous to expect that people with and without kids have just the same salary outcomes, in the same way it's ridiculous for me to expect that I'll do as well with a no-work-past-5PM attitude as some guy who sleeps with his Blackberry under his pillow. If he's willing to sacrifice every waking minute of his time for the job, I can't really argue with him getting the bigger raise — I still think he's an idiot, though, because no raise is worth that sort of unbalanced life. But that's just my opinion; maybe he's totally happy with his life.

There are lots of different ways to be happy, and I'm intrinsically against subsidizing one just because it happens to be traditional or culturally ingrained.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:23 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having kids is a lifestyle choice.

In America? Do you really believe that? Reproduction as a "lifestyle choice" for women only applies to a certain portion of the population - we're constantly having to fight for access to correct sex education for minors, reliable contraception, and regular non-discriminating healthcare (including abortion). We don't all have consensual sex, we're aren't all middle class and we certainly don't all have access to the same freedoms and choices men have in their lives.
posted by saturnine at 11:04 PM on October 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


If you compare employed women with children to employed men with children, you'll see a gender gap in their pay. And a gender gap in amount of time spent on housework.
posted by harriet vane at 11:28 PM on October 27, 2009


In America? Do you really believe that? Reproduction as a "lifestyle choice" for women only applies to a certain portion of the population

A valid point. And I think that ensuring reproductive freedom to all women ought to be a national priority. We should treat the issues you mention—women who end up pregnant nonconsensually, women who don't have access to contraception or abortion services, and even just women who end up being pressured into childbearing by less obviously forceful means—as the problems that they are, not simply as premises that we can't change.

Some proposals that I've heard tossed around over the years ostensibly to increase equality, amount to little more than a subsidization of childbearing and childcare by women, and do nothing but further entrench traditional gender roles. This strikes me as a terrible idea for just about everyone concerned.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:18 AM on October 28, 2009


If you compare employed women with children to employed men with children, you'll see a gender gap in their pay. And a gender gap in amount of time spent on housework.

Yep, this is what I was getting at. Comparing childless women and men of indeterminate parental status is stupid for these reasons at least.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:23 AM on October 28, 2009


I had never before heard of Lesotho (number #10, jumping from #43 five years ago). It is kind of telling that in a country where life expectancy is 30-33 years and the majority of literate and educated people are women, the parliament is still mostly men and women are still paid less.

So looking at the US and Canada (the two countries I am most familiar with), I question one of their statistics. For Canada under maternity leave it says there is only 17-18 weeks paid at 1% of wages and it is provincial, but for at least seven years we have had 52 weeks of paid parental leave funded by the Federal EI programme at 55% of wages, previous to that it was six months for years so their data can't be THAT out of date); for the US it says there is 12 weeks paid maternity leave - I thought there was only 12 weeks unpaid (except by employer choice).

The fact that Canada was #14 in 2006 and has slid sixteen places in five years speaks to my ignorance in noticing either a huge trend downward for Canadian women or a massive trend worldwide in raising equality in the rest of the world. Such huge yearly swings in other countries as well speak to the narrow specificity of their statistical choices instead of them looking at broader trends (Mongolia jumped up 20 places to #22 in five years but Malta dropped #89?). Ireland is #8 but women still can't get an abortion; I know it is a single issue but it is indicative of the rights of women in a country if they can't access basic healthcare. Looking at other country profiles I do not think this report was researched as well as I would have expected. For example, under Italy, I see no mention of dryers.
posted by saucysault at 3:26 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


So many rights and ways of life are state-determined in America. How would Massachusetts or New England shape up against the world in one of these studies? Would a section of America shoot right up the rankings without other states lacking protections for women's rights dragging them down?

Are other countries as vastly different in their provinces/states/regions as America is? I know we're all America, but lumping in gay-rights-friendly, progressive, university-filled states like Massachusetts with states that effectively ban abortion and are nearly de-facto run by church organizations seems to average to an America that isn't really the truth in either place. Then again, that may just be the case in many countries.
posted by explosion at 4:12 AM on October 28, 2009


In Australia our states and territories have pretty uniform rules - there are differences, but not enough to get you into a lot of trouble if you cross state lines when it comes to abortion, gay rights, gun ownership, education levels, etc. But we've got a much smaller population, only 22 million.
posted by harriet vane at 6:03 AM on October 28, 2009


:: bring on the edit window::

...and Australia has fewer states, only 6 plus a handful of territories, so there's not so much scope for difference.
posted by harriet vane at 6:04 AM on October 28, 2009


Switzerland didn't even have full women's suffrage until 1990, so I must say I'm quite surprised at their relatively high ranking.
posted by kmz at 6:53 AM on October 28, 2009


The "Head of State" label really bugs me. In Canada our Head of State for the past 50 years HAS been a woman, Lilibet (I think we share her with 15 other countries). Instead of Head ofSstate they should have chosen Political Leader or Head of Government (which has been almost entirely male). And looking at the gender of the "Head of State" for the past fifty years is odd, considering feminism was hardly on the political landscape in 1959. A comparison over the past 25 or 30 years seems more useful.
posted by saucysault at 7:16 AM on October 28, 2009


Canada (and I suspect the US) gets marked down hard because of lack of female participation in politics. In Canada, there's about a 30% participation rate and an even lower rate of representation. Women candidates are less likely to get elected then men, even when they stand for election.

This is lower/worse than most of the other countries in the list, which highly weights political participation. I haven't looked at the numbers in detail, but I strongly suspect that's where a lot of the ranking comes from.
posted by bonehead at 7:19 AM on October 28, 2009


I find it incredibly telling that some people think it is a good argument to compare "women without children" to "all men" and declare that salaries are "almost equal". That is, exactly, the heart of the matter.
posted by muddgirl at 7:28 AM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Only 18% of current U.S. Representatives and 17% of Senators are women.
posted by Free word order! at 8:43 AM on October 28, 2009


It's the horns of the dilemma for women really: do you stay childless (or put your kids in daycare very early) and get the same seniority, work-experience and pay that your male cohort does, or do you take a couple of years off, reduce your seniority and correspondingly make less.

Simple answers don't work.

You can't expect employers to grant high salaries to less experienced moms who have taken time off, or who have chosen lower responsibility roles to have more time away from work. Similarly, you have to respect women's choices to focus on what's important to them, even if the consequence is lower pay.

Of course, this leads to ghettoized "mommy-track" jobs, and that's a problem that needs to be sorted out. And too, men need more support to be able to choose a "daddy-track" jobs. It's possible, but very hard, in Canada for men to do so. You need to work in a union shop with a strong collective agreement AND have an understanding supervisor.

Even so, I suspect that more women will continue to favour children more than men, for what ever reasons. With this, comes the unsurprising result that women will always have a lower participation in the workforce than men, and lower average pay. On the other hand, when controlled for those choices, women should absolutely have wage parity with men, which is still an issue---I've seen recent figures in the .85 to .90 range.

Parity of wage and parity of opportunities, yes. We have to respect people's agency though, and if this leads to less economic advantage for certain groups, the "mommy-track", then we must respect it.
posted by bonehead at 8:52 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


saucysalt: It's a similar problem with Iceland actually. They use the president for their comparison, which is a largely ceremonial role, instead of the prime minister, who heads the government, and has a lower ratio of women to men actually.
posted by zabuni at 8:52 AM on October 28, 2009


In Germany female ratio of Bundestag members grew from 8% (1980) to 32% (2005). Austria reports 27.9% of MP:s. In EU on average, 25% of government members and 23.9% of MP:s are women. In Finland 60% of gov. members and 40% of MP:s are women. In Iceland 50% of gov. and 42.8% of MP:s are women. I think these numbers tell more than heads of states.
posted by Free word order! at 9:14 AM on October 28, 2009


Canada has been stable at 20-22% for more than the past decade and 5 elections. We've never had an elected PM (Kim Campbell only lasted 3 months and was a rump PM, like John Turner).
posted by bonehead at 9:22 AM on October 28, 2009


elected female PM, that is.
posted by bonehead at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2009


I know Kim was a sitting duck but she DOES count. My daughter wants to be Prime Minister one day and when we were in Ottawa I loved that I could point to a picture of a woman with the other PM portraits. It was also very noticable in the Parliament Buildings all the statues and busts of political women, again so I could show my daughter people like her are a part of politics and decision-makers.

The ratio of actual female MPs/MPPs and Mayors sucks though, thanks to the old-boy network in the Conservative and (cough) Liberal parties.
posted by saucysault at 11:14 AM on October 28, 2009


Canada's head of state is not the Prime Minister. Our last two heads of state have been female, as is the person by whom they were appointed.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:30 PM on October 28, 2009


Many people, women and men, quite rationally choose to earn less money than they could. (I include myself and many people I know in this group.) If women are more likely than men to make such choices, the fact that women earn less overall isn't necessarily a sign of discrimination and could even be a sign of relative privilege.

Dudes, Iceland and the rest of the Nordic countries and many Western European countries don't have the work/child-bearing and "Mommy track" issues that we have in the U.S.

Why? Because they recognize that childbearing is part of human life *for both genders* and that high quality/low cost daycare needs to be provided for all. They recognize that social life of whatever type you want, childfree or childful, is essential to health and that you can be highly productive (possibly more so) even if you actually take vacations and spend time with your kids!!!

In Iceland, you get 9 months paid maternity/paternity leave between a couple (they can choose who stays home at 80% pay for which portion they like) and there is cheap, high quality daycare for ages from under a year on (high quality in that the very little ones stay at someone's house and the adult/child ratio is strictly kept to 1 to 4, often 1 to 3 and the workers are trained.) You can stay home or work and use this: your choice. Childcare isn't seen as some evil bugaboo that will turn all women into workbots.

It is ridiculous to call childrearing a lifestyle choice. It's obviously fundamental to the human species and we should all-- including the childless amongst whom I am one-- want to contribute to it. Why? Well, perhaps you would prefer not to raped, murdered, robbed or assaulted, would prefer to have a productive workforce and maximize scientific innovation, would prefer to have a world that is filled with people who have the maximum ability to be kind.

You can massively improve your odds of a low crime/low corruption/high empathy/ higher intelligence society simply by providing free or low cost high quality childcare and healthcare (including prenatal) for all. There's a reason the Nordic countries repeatedly rate high on happiness, education and productivity-- and low on crime and corruption and it's not just having a homogeneous population.
posted by Maias at 1:47 PM on October 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's not like it's that simple at all, Maias. Canada has a year-long parental leave (that can be divided between parents, up to a maximum of 5 months for fathers). It's still very difficult for a a woman to get up to a year or a man to get up to five months off from most employers. We've had the system for about a decade now and career advancement vs caregiving still a huge issue, ridiculous or not.

And, unless my Danish and Norwegian friends are atypical (they work for state oil and academic settings), it's not trouble-free for them either---issues are very much the same. Taking a couple of years off to have kids will most definitely stall one's career advancement. Academic systems are, in fact, really problematic. Junior professors have a time clock of a few (typically five) years to prove themselves. Poor family planning can have a very big affect on a career with a paleolithic dean.

It would be nice to live in a world where this wouldn't matter, but it does and I don't see how that can change. If one chooses to absent themselves from a career for a couple of years, one can't complain that they're behind their peers who didn't when they go back.
posted by bonehead at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2009


If one chooses to absent themselves from a career for a couple of years, one can't complain that they're behind their peers who didn't when they go back.

But the problem is more complex than that. Women who return to the workforce aren't just behind their peers, they're behind people who started more recently.

I have no problem with the argument that people shouldn't be rewarded for taking time off to have a kid. But when they chose to return to the workforce, a woman with a child should not be socially or economically penalized more than a man with a child.
posted by muddgirl at 2:22 PM on October 28, 2009


Women who return to the workforce aren't just behind their peers, they're behind people who started more recently.

I've never heard that claim before, though extended absences do tend to cause one to have to restart a career. I've not heard that particular complaint from women of my acquaintance in our system though. there are lots of other practical issues that concern them though: low pay during leave, career stalling, work-life balance issues, relative costs of daycare vs salary, etc....
I hear very similar things from men who have taken paternity leave though. Is this a particularly US issue?

Most of my experience with this has been in either the public service (which tries to be scrupulously fair at such things), or in larger industries. As noted above, time off while in a tenure track position can be really tough to manage. The real problem with the Canadian system is that it only works in large institutions, public or private. It's very hard for a small business to manage an extended absence and guarantee the same job after a year's absence. It's impossible, if you're self-employed. From my friends comments, the same is more or less true in the Scandinavian systems.
posted by bonehead at 2:45 PM on October 28, 2009


Bonehead, I'm sure it's not paradise in Scandinavia but the evidence of this post and elsewhere shows that it is *better* in terms of equality for women. If you create a better work/life balance for *everyone* there's no reason anyone should have to take multiple years off because after the first year or two, if you have reasonable work/life balance there's no reason for people to stay at home (and if they want to after that, I don't see why they shouldn't advance less because that would truly be a free choice).

If we would all agree to work sane hours, we'd have lower unemployment, less stress, better work/life balance, happier and healthier kids and people, etc. Another alternative is onsite daycare.

One should be able to advance reasonably-- male or female-- without having to give up a social/family life. Are there careers where timing of childrearing will have to be done carefully because of the intensity of time commitment at certain points? Of course. If you are a doctor or running a company, a high powered attorney, etc. there will be times when you are probably best off not having a young child and when it isn't fair to others for them not to advance ahead of you if they are doing hours and hours more work.

But for most people in most jobs most of the time, it's pretty easy to level the playing field by providing paid family leave for a year and high quality/ free or low cost daycare.

We haven't even *tried* that in the U.S. Everyone bitches everywhere-- but if you had to choose between US and Norway for work/life family/career options, I don't think there are many people who would choose the U.S.
posted by Maias at 2:46 PM on October 28, 2009


career stalling, work-life balance issues, relative costs of daycare vs salary, etc....

There are exactly the issues I was talking about that slow working mothers, especially single working mothers, behind their peers. Like I said above, the fact that working fathers make comparable salaries to working non-fathers, yet working mother's make much less than working non-mothers is pretty significant.
posted by muddgirl at 3:05 PM on October 28, 2009


I can't help but think that this is a US vs other places issue. I know at least two people, one of whom I work with daily, the other a good friend, who have "daddy-tracked", consciously decided to reduce workload, take leave etc... to have more time with their young families. In one case the mom is stay at home also, but he says that it's still one of the best things he's done. He's taken leave for at least two of his three kids.

As a result, both have chosen lower wages and slowed career advancement. The effect you're talking about doesn't appear to be sex-linked but absence and agency linked. At least judging by the experiences of the people I know.
posted by bonehead at 3:29 PM on October 28, 2009


You are talking about individual choices. I am talking about cultural trends and aggregates. I don't know how to compare the two.
posted by muddgirl at 3:32 PM on October 28, 2009


I still agree, btw, that the absolute differential between women's and men's pay need to be improved. I just think that the mommy-track arguments are not sex-specific in places where leave can be taken by either parent. IOW, that's more a US-centric phenomenon that is a function your local laws than it is a feature of how employment handles parental leave.
posted by bonehead at 3:33 PM on October 28, 2009


My point is that if you don't give people options, they won't take them.

In the U.S., women typically have to do it all for themselves: work out a way to work, work out childcare, work out health care. Sure, there are going to be different levels of desire for different types of work/family balance.

But that doesn't mean that society doesn't have a responsibility to ensure that people are making those choices on most level playing field possible. Offering appropriate family leave and providing low cost/high quality daycare for all levels the playing field.

If you want to slack more than that, go to it: but don't be saying that women aren't forced into a corner by the insane U.S. system or that the Scandinavian one isn't inherently more fair. The data shows that it is.
posted by Maias at 3:50 PM on October 28, 2009


« Older 3 o' clock in the morning, you're buying a pie fro...  |  While his uncle hits the motiv... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments