Married, With Children? Not for Women in Management

by Robert Drago
The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s new glass ceiling report on women in management was just released by the Joint Economic Committee, and the news is bad. In a comparison of the years 2000 and 2007, women comprised 49% of non-managerial workers in both years, but their representation in management rose slightly from 39% to 40%.
Although the report does not say why things are still so bad, the numbers hint that marriage and children are part of the problem – but only for women. In 2007, 74% of the men in management were married, while that only held true for 59% of the women. While 57% of the men had no dependent children, 63% of the women had no children. Further, 27% of the men had at least two children, but only 20% of the women did.
These differences reflect what we call “bias avoidance strategies.” Here’s how it works. If you think your co-workers or bosses view care-giving commitments as a negative, then you will either avoid those commitments entirely or hide them when you have them. When men take on care-giving responsibilities, that’s fine. It is automatically assumed that family will not interfere with work. On the other hand, when women take on care-giving roles, they are no longer taken seriously; instead, they are “just moms.” Bias avoidance behaviors are rooted in the harsh reality that women still perform more housework and provide more childcare than men. However, young men are doing more housework and are more involved in childcare today than ever, yet the outdated workplace expectations that induce bias avoidance remain… No wonder women in management often avoid marriage and children.
The GAO report also highlights the economic incentives for bias avoidance. Among women in management without children, average pay rose from 81 cents to 83 cents for every dollar earned by males between 2000 and 2007. The story for women in management with children? Their earnings stayed flat at 79 cents on every dollar earned by male managers (and that is male managers with children).
Fortunately, many of our leading employers have recognized the economic danger inherent in forcing employees, and particularly women, to engage in bias avoidance strategies: we lose the productivity of many of our most talented citizens when they “choose” to make family commitments. Those employers, spotlighted annually by Working Mother magazine, strive to be family-responsive, and are much better at holding onto talented women (and men), regardless of care-giving commitments.
Unfortunately, our national response has been anemic, with around half of the workforce receiving unpaid time off for care-giving under the Family and Medical Leave Act. We can and should do more, including ensuring the provision of paid sick days with the proposed Healthy Families Act. The proposed act provides sick days both for one’s own illness and to care for ill family members. Congress should also pass the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would promote the negotiation of work schedules that are win-win for both employers and families. Finally, because the wage gap exists for both mothers and non-mothers, we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, to help equalize wage disparities between women and men.
We can do better, and if we do, those dismal numbers for women in management will improve.

Bad News for American Women

by Claudia Williams and Robert Drago, PhD
The US Census just released new data on income, poverty and health insurance. Using these data, a new fact sheet from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that last year women earned 23 percent less than men, which is almost identical to the 2008 figure of 22.9 percent. There was no progress towards pay equality for women this year. Despite women obtaining college degrees at a rate that is 50% above that for men, and despite the great recession supposedly being a “mancession,” women are not doing better.
Certainly, men’s unemployment (9.8%) is higher than women’s (8%), but poverty rates tell a very different story. The poverty rate is up to 14.3%, from 13.2% in 2008. And which family type is most likely to live in poverty? That would be female-headed households, where the rate rose to 32.5% in 2009. For children living in single-mother families, the rate is even higher, at 44.4%.
Why are unemployment and poverty so different for men and women? First, unemployment insurance pulls millions of Americans out of poverty (unemployment benefits are indeed included when poverty is calculated). Men were more likely to be employed before the recession, so were also more likely to receive the benefit. Second, as another recent IWPR report shows, the social safety net is in tatters: only 12% of single mothers living in poverty are receiving assistance under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The program should have but did not expand coverage during the recession.
Government intervention is essential for addressing poverty, and is even more important given that tough economic times are continuing. With so many families in poverty struggling to make ends meets, we should not turn a blind eye to the human suffering we as a society are allowing at present. Further, a generation of children could be lost economically unless we help by promoting public policies that enhance and support women’s and workers livelihoods. Strengthening safety net programs like unemployment insurance, TANF, earned sick days and Social Security would help, but so would pay equity for women. It wasn’t just a “mancession” after all.
Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is interested in gender, poverty and international development. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods to do research on women at IWPR. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy with a concentration on Women Studies at George Washington University.

Women Hitting the Wall

by Robert Drago, PhD
Study findings released last Wednesday claimed that women’s median earnings are higher than men’s in 147 out of 150 American communities. The claim comes with a few caveats, including the fact that the difference is all of 8 percent, and only holds for unmarried, childless women under 30.
By Thursday, a report from IWPR on occupational segregation and the gender wage gap reached the opposite conclusion: women’s labor market gains have stalled in the last 15 years or so and, since 2002, have reversed for young women. What is going on here?
It is not the data. Both studies compared women’s median earnings using data produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It is partly education and skills. The report claiming that women are out-earning men, produced by Reach Advisors, compared all women and all men, while the IWPR report compared women and men with equivalent education and skills. If the Reach Advisors report had controlled for education, it would have found women earning less.
In fact, much of the gender wage gap (this is the old-fashioned one that favors men) can be traced to continuing occupational segregation. Among highly-educated, high-skill workers, the IWPR study found that jobs dominated by men (i.e. at least 75 of employees are men) yield earnings of over $1400 per week, compared to just over $900 per week in jobs dominated by women. The absolute difference is smaller, but even in low-skill jobs, male-dominated occupations generate earnings around $550 per week compared to just under $410 per week in female-dominated jobs. Educated or not, working with lots of women is a recipe for lower wages.
What the Reach Advisors study could not conclude, but the IWPR report clearly shows, is that women who want to get ahead should be entering male-dominated occupations. For low-education types, that means construction and factory work and transportation. For high-education types, that means engineering and science, breaking the glass ceiling into upper-level management jobs, or working in construction, but as a manager. Integrated occupations also pay better than female-dominated jobs at all skill levels.
And here is where the Reach study is genuinely misleading: the situation for young women is not improving. Although it may have been unintentional, the Reach study did not analyze changes over time. When the IWPR researchers did that, going back all the way back to 1972 data, they found that women entered male-dominated jobs in large numbers throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By the mid-1990s, progress stalled. For young women, matters proceeded to get worse, with a fifth of the reduction in segregation gained in earlier decades wiped out in the few short years since 2002.
The surprising conclusion of putting the studies side-by-side: women are earning on average more than men because of education. Education has helped millions of women do better in the labor market. But women would earn even more if the labor market were desegregated.
Robert Drago, Ph.D., joined IWPR as the Director of Research in 2010. Prior to joining IWPR, Dr. Drago held positions as Senior Economist in the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the departments of Women’s Studies and Labor Studies.