The Gender Gap

Over the years, especially in my youth, I have encounter discrimination. I have been discriminated based on appearance, age, class, and interests. I fully understand that the stereotyping I came across is minuscule compared to what others are forced to deal with, but I do understand how it can make life difficult. One form of discrimination I will never have to negotiate is gender. 46.9% of the American work force is female (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). The statistics clearly point to gender inequality with wages. Women with associate degrees make an average of $42,000 per year and men with only a high school education make $44,300 per year (Henslin, 2014). In 2007 my wife was an established interior designer with an associate’s degree. I was in my second year as a factory worker with only a high school diploma. My gross was 40% more than hers.

It is commonly believed that higher education equates to higher salaries. This is not entirely true when looking at many blue collar jobs. Oil rig workers and welders can earn six-figure salaries; as a factory worker, I grossed 120,000 in 2015. Jobs in the trades (especially those with representation) often have a fixed pay scale so everyone earns equal pay for equal work. These jobs obscure the overall statistics.

So back in 2007 if my wife wanted to make more money she could have applied at the factory. In truth, it is not that simple and the fact is very few females work in the trades. Women make up 1.6% of pipefitters, 4.8% of welders, and 0% derrick (oil rigs) workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Why do so few work in these fields? The obvious answer is because they don’t want to, although it could be because women are ridiculed off the job or possibly stereotyped and not even considered for a position.

To see more clearly how the gender wage gap manifests let’s consider some fields that have equal education requirements and get closer to the equal pay for equal work concept. Female surgeons earn 62.2%, police officers 71.2%, and financial managers 67.4% of their male counterparts (Sherman, 2015). Females in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) earn 33% more than non-STEM females but earn 15% less than males in STEM (Beede, David, 2011). Why do women make less than men? One theory is that men are more aggressive at negotiating salaries. This may be true for corporate positions, but I don’t understand how it applies to law enforcement or the medical field.

Gender discrimination can take many forms. The armed forces are mandated to pay its employees equal rates (based on pay grade) and now females can enter into previous male-only positions. So where is the discrimination? Equipment can be an issue as it is designed for males. Female soldiers are sometimes looked at by males as a potential date rather than a coworker. Also, as with all male dominated occupations, when a woman fails at a task it is because of her gender.

Women have a hard fight in front of them, one they have been fighting for a very long time. I do believe things are changing, though. In 1992 women began to outnumber men in college; by 2010 36% of women (ages 25-29) achieved a bachelor’s degree compared to only 28% of men (Parker & Wang, 2011). Women dominate the fields of health professions (85%), public administration (82%), education (79%), and psychology (77%) (Olsen, 2014).

The landscape of employment is changing. Females may never outnumber males in the blue collar fields, but they will likely out number males in the white collar world. As the education gender gap increases women will fill more high-level positions, then perhaps it will be males that feel the discrimination.

Note:  This essay is adapted from an assignment for SOC 135 taught by Jeremy Baker of Allied American University.  Below are the APA citations.

Beede, David; Julian, Tiffany; Langdon, David; McKittrick; Khan, Beethika; and Doms, Mark (2011) Women in STEM:  A Gender Gap to Innovation. Retrieved from http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/womeninstemagaptoinnovation8311.pdf

Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm

Henslin, James (2014) Sociology:  A Down-to-Earth Approach (12th ed.).

Olsen, Randy (2014) Percentage of Bachelor’s degrees conferred to women, by major (1970 – 2012). Retrieved from http://www.randalolson.com/2014/06/14/percentage-of-bachelors-degrees-conferred-to-women-by-major-1970-2012/

Parker, Kim and Wang, Wendy (2011).  Women See Value and Benefits of College; Men Lag on Both Fronts, Survey Finds.  Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/08/Gender-and-higher-ed-FNL-RPT.pdf

Sherman, Erik (2015) These 20 jobs have the biggest gender pay gaps. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/03/02/jobs-biggest-gender-pay-gaps/

Edit: 08AUG17

Two points concerning my article have been presented to me as counter points.  I am adding this edit as a rebuttal to the points.

#1 The gender gap can be explained because women work less than men.

It is true that statistics can easily be manipulated and while researching the above paper I came across over-all statistics.  Those over-all statistics look at everything with a wide lens.  I tried to be specific when reviewing the gender gap in pay; this is highlighted in the fourth paragraph.  The statistics in that paragraph are based on equal education, hours, and job responsibilities.  The source cited uses information gained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor.  I want to reiterate that those statistics are specific occupations; many jobs do have equal pay (as noted in the second and third paragraph). 

#2 It is illegal for companies to discriminate against gender.

The law that protects us from wage discriminations, Equal Pay/Compensation Discrimination (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/equalcompensation.cfm), is very clear on how an employer should conduct itself.  I think it is a bit foolish to think that this law is never broken.  It could very well be a coincidence that those with lower wages are women.  I am open to any information that better explains the wage differences between men and women.

A debate is amazing and it is how we learn and grow.  I encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to first examine the sources I have cited, then do some research into the material.