Rethink attitudes, reshape policy
Caity Bobber | Thursday, February 6, 2014
Numbers, although they make statements more credible, can be easily distorted. That is one of the points Conor Durkin makes in his Viewpoint “Examining the 77-cent myth.” As a business and sociology double major, I appreciated Durkin’s take on the gender wage gap, but I wanted to voice my own thoughts as well.
Durkin suggests that the 77-cent statistic is misleading “almost to the point of being untrue” because it does not account for factors such as educational attainment, job type or consecutive years in the workforce. These controls, economists propose, could reduce the gap to 2-9 cents. However, all the sociological studies on gender and employment I have analyzed in class do control for these extraneous variables, yet they still confirm the existence of a sizable wage gap. Moreover, those factors are not unrelated to gender.
Consider this: today more college graduates are women than men. This means women and men enter post-grad entry-level jobs with comparable educational attainment and career trajectories. Since these well-educated women are delaying childbirth, we should see a 100 percent salary match between them and their male counterparts across all fields — at least until women may leave the workforce for motherhood. But that is simply not the case. The gap is evident upon initial hiring and only grows as women struggle to break past the glass ceiling.
I do agree with Durkin that a considerable part of this problem is social — women are taught to be feminine, and, by praising polite and passive behavior, we discourage women from taking risks in the workforce. But we cannot solve the wage gap dilemma through social means alone. The government plays a paramount role in introducing policies that give women the choice to remain in the workforce if they so desire, such as better public daycare or even mandated paternity leave. (Policies which grant more leave to mothers than fathers perpetuate inequality.) Progressive countries such as Sweden have these initiatives in place, and as a result they boast more gender egalitarian workforces.
In sum, social attitudes dictate policy, and policy shapes social attitudes. Only when America attacks this problem through both social and legal means will we start to see gender equality in the workforce. Because whether we are fighting a 23-cent differential or a 2-cent differential, in issues of equality, “not that bad” does not cut it.