You Have Come a Long Way, Baby, But You Have a Long Way to Go

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

THE SEPT. 16, 2009 ISSUE OF Newsweek that included titles
from Hear Her Roar to Working Women are Poised to
Become the Biggest Economic Engine the World Has Ever
Known, and The Foundation for a New Prosperity is typical
of the growing stream of literature that emphasizes the
progress women have made over the last 50 years. Somewhat
better balanced but nonetheless also emphasizing the
strides women have made is a report in a recent issue of
The Economist (Jan. 2nd–8th, 2010) titled We Did It! What
happens when women are over half the workforce.
In the U.S. these 50 years encompassed both the
progress and the backlash of the decades of Roe v. Wade,
the battles of the equal rights amendment (including the
equal rights marches), Title IX, and finally, in 2009, two
women running for the highest offices in the land. Further,
there have been even more substantial improvements in
some of the rest of the world. No less than 36 women have
been elected heads of state in other countries. Also the percent
of women in the single or lower house of representatives
has been increasing in most countries, and has
reached 40 percent in the Nordic countries. The proportion
of women in the legislature affects government expenditures
on education health care and foreign aid, as well as
the use of capital punishment.
There has also been progress in other respects. The
division of labor between man the provider and woman
the homemaker, which had changed only slowly over the
ages accelerated in the middle of the 20th century, likely as
a result of WWII. Although ‘Rosie the riveter’ left her job at
the end of the war and gave birth to the ‘baby boomers,’
this was the first generation of women who returned to the
labor market in large numbers as their children grew up.
Recently women’s unemployment rate has been lower than
men’s and their labor force participation has been higher.
(One reason for the increase in women’s labor force participation
compared to that of men—at least a temporary
one—is that the current depression has impacted predominantly
male industries like construction, automotives,
and extraction). However, while women are eager to enter
the world of work, men are far less ready to do ‘their share’
of homemaking. In the U.S., in a family with at least one
preschool child wives with a full time job spend 15.5
hours per week on primary child-care and 5.9 hours on
care of other household members; their husbands spend
only 10.1 hours and 4.1 hours on these activities. Further,
these wives spend 18.1 hours on housework and grocery
shopping, while their husbands spend only 12.4 hours on
these chores. In sum, these women spend 39.5 hours a
week taking care of their families while their husbands
spend a total of 26.6. This, no doubt, helps to explain why
one of the most important developments in recent decades
has been a drastic reduction in the birthrate in economically
developed countries. One might argue that since men
were obviously unwilling to take on a larger share of
parental responsibilities, women chose to limit them by
bearing fewer children. Notably, this trend is also seen in
heavily Catholic Italy and Spain, which have had the lowest
birthrates in recent years.
No comparably reliable data on women’s labor force
participation are available for developing countries, where
subsistence agriculture remain an important sector and
where small family enterprises continue to be common. In
these countries the decision whether to count farm women
who generally help with planting and harvesting, and tending
small animals, and women who participate in running
small family businesses, as members of the labor force
appears to be highly arbitrary. Thus, i0t is not surprising
that accounts of women’s labor force participation in such
countries ranges from just over 30 percent to over 70 percent.
Increases in workforce participation do not tell the
whole story. One important question is are women
rewarded similarly to men for comparable types of work. It
is, of course, well known that men and women do not
tend to do the same work. Women are substantially underrepresented
among construction and extraction occupations,
installation, maintenance and repair workers, production
and repair operatives, and production occupations,
while they are overrepresented in service occupations
and among clerical and administrative support
employees. The former are better paid than the latter.
Women are also more heavily represented than men
among professional and related occupations but a more
detailed examination reveals that while men in this category
tend to be doctors, lawyers and university professors,
women are vastly overrepresented among nurses and
schoolteachers. Further, while male faculty members are
predominantly full and associate professors, women are
considerably overrepresented among assistant professors,
lecturers and other ‘irregular’ ranks. Similarly, male physicians
are heavily represented among surgeons and other
highly paid specialists, while women are a substantial
majority of general practitioners.
Differences in training, tenure, freedom to move where
the best jobs are and various other factors account for a
substantial portion of the difference in earnings, but careful
studies have concluded that they explain only about 40
percent of the male–female earnings differential. A recent
study by McKinley Blackburn in issue 1, 2010 of the Journal
of Economic Geography shows that when dual earner
couples move, the woman is likely to lose out today just as
was the case a back in the late 1970s.
So, we seem to have made progress, however, we might
ask, “are these developments cause for satisfaction, perhaps
even celebration?” Yes, there has been progress since
the days when, as a child, I did not personally know a professional
woman. We have advanced from the days when I
received a handsome fellowship only to be told by one of
my professors that he had voted against it because ‘women
only get married and have babies’. And, we have made
progress from the days when I was pleased to become an
assistant professor with tenure at UIUC after 15 years as a
visiting lecturer. But these improvements are not cause to
rest on our laurels and stop struggling for true equality.
For further elaboration and data in the work of Marianne
A. Ferber, see: The Economics of Women, Men, and Work
(2010), with Francine Blau and Anne Winkler (Prentice
Hall, 2010); “Does Your Legislator’s Sex Matter?” Policy
Matters, Autumn 2006 (11-15), with Michael Brun; and
“Husbands, Wives and Careers” Journal of Marriage and
Family, May 1979 (315-25), with Joan Huber.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.