In this essay, I shall go into detail about why there are social limitations for women, concentrating mainly on the gender pay gap as I feel that it is a good example in which to answer the set question. It would be impossible, if not insulting, to cover the whole issue of women’s social limitations in two thousand words. However, I have given two other examples not relating to the gender pay gap, to illustrate that paid work is but a part of a larger picture.
“Today, in western societies, women have the same life chances as their male counterparts.”
Common sense and experience of life could tell us that the above statement is untrue. In this essay I shall illustrate some of the inequalities between the genders, explain the divides, and explain some of the ways in which this is changing.
ARE THERE SOCIAL LIMITATIONS?
Here are three examples of inequalities within society. Explanations for these inequalities will be addressed in the next section.
A. Inequalities for women within society.
Women make up roughly 50% of the population, however male dominance is a central theme in the top echelons of society. For example, in local governments women make up between 50 and 70 per cent of the work force, however there are no female Chief Executives (Engender 1996: 2).
Women are paid only 72.4 per cent compared to their male counterparts in Scotland (Engender 1996:1). This gender pay gap serves to highlight the fact that women tend to be in low paid or part time work, in some cases paid less for doing the same job (Inga Persson and Christina Jonung 1998: 15).
2. The Household
In Britain 80 to 89.9 per cent of the household work is done by women (John J. Macionis and Ken Plummer 1998: 362). There is no nation on earth that shares house duties equally, as nearly every society expects women to do the housework.
Subject segregation, in terms of choice, between the genders is still significant. The Engender Audit (1996: 1) says, “Girls forming the majority of those taking languages, business studies, and home economics, and boys make up the majority of those studying physics, computing subjects, and technological subjects.”
Also from the Engender Audit (1996: 1) is the fact that, “Girls in Scottish secondary schools continue to consistently achieve better results than boys but that is not translated in terms of entry to higher education and the labour market.”
B. Statistics: The truth?
Another example of the social limitations which women face can be seen not only in the above themes but also in the studies of gender differences (Engender 1996:1). Statistics for this essay have been difficult to come by. Those statistics, which I have found, are normally out of date, not sufficiently detailed or very difficult to comprehend. This lack of data means that women’s inequalities are often ignored so improvement of their position is slow in coming.
The definition of class, in the past, used to be measured by the income of the male head of the household (John J. Macionis and Ken Plummer 1998: 276). This again misleads society, and ignores the question of female poverty.
WHY ARE THEIR SOCIAL LIMITATIONS?
1. The Gender Pay Gap.
For many societies, our jobs or the labour market is the most powerful social indicator we have to monitor class poverty; in short, it is a central measurement of hierarchy. For example, in Britain the government uses our occupation to measure our social class (John J. Macionis and Ken Plummer 1998: 268). For this reason, I shall explain the gender pay gap as I feel it highlights the way in which women are economically disadvantaged or even discriminated against in the labour market. As I mentioned in the previous section women in Scotland are paid only 72.4 per cent to that of their male counterparts. There are several explanations for this; however, I shall detail two of the most influential.
Mincer and Polachek developed the Human Capitol Explanation (Inga Persson and Christina Jonung 1998: 16) which explains the gender pay gap in terms of economic outcomes based on productive differences between the sexes. This explanation considers that employers see female, or future female, employees as having a shorter or discontinuous working life due to family commitments. Looking after the children, pregnancy, meeting husbands needs which could involve moving around from place to place with husbands as his job requires it are all but a few examples of family commitments. Employers also consider that these family commitments mean that women will have less incentive to invest in vocationally advanced training than their male counterparts.
Women also tend to be guided into jobs requiring little investment by either themselves, their employers or where wage penalties for career interruptions are smaller. The results of this model are that women themselves choose low paid vocations or are lead by employers, for the reasons above, into these jobs creating occupational segregation. One other factor that Mincer and Polachek’s model highlights is that employers have difficulty distinguishing between career women and family women. This means that career women are statistically discriminated against.
Evidence to back up this theory comes from the Glass Ceiling Commission (1993). This study was created in the United States, after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Its aim was, “A study of opportunities for, and artificial barriers to, the advancement of minority men and all women into management and decision making positions in Corporate America.” To summarise it found that there are internal structural barriers within businesses such as-
* Recruitment practices that discriminate against women.
* Women alienated by corporate climates (e.g. male refusal to accept female supervisors)
* Promotional structures within corporations are discriminatory (e.g. different standards for performance evaluation or the lack of opportunities for career development).
These findings support the Human Capitol Explanation.
This model also is consistent with the division of labour in the household. I mentioned earlier that family oriented women would look for low paid, low skilled, investment jobs. The reason for this is because of there expected role as home-worker, thus spend more time at home (Inga Persson and Christina Jonung 1998: 17).
Closely related to the Human Capitol Explanation is Becker’s 1985 model which states, “The longer hours women spend on housework lowers the effort they put into their market jobs compared to men’s and hence reduces their wages.” This model may also be seen as showing how traditional family division of labour creates disadvantages for women in the work place (Inga Persson and Christina Jonung 1998: 17).
A second theory for the gender pay gap is Becker’s (1957) model of Labour Market Discrimination (Inga Persson and Christina Jonung 1998: 17). Becker’s study was not of women but concentrated of race discrimination. He found that, “Models assume a world of uncertainty and imperfect information and focus on differences between groups in the expected value of productivity or in reliability with which productivity may be predicted.”
What in essence Becker is saying is that many employers may pre-judge certain groups, in this case black males but also applies to women, in a discriminatory fashion thus exclude them from employment or promotion on the basis of these prejudices (e.g. one such prejudice may be that all women do not wish to have a career). This theory also supports the statistical discrimination explanation, mentioned earlier.
An interesting model, produced in Bergmans (1974) Overcrowding Model, shows that as a result of occupational segregation and discrimination an excess supply of labour becomes available thus depressing wages in low paid, traditional, female occupations (Inga Persson and Christina Jonung 1998: 17).
Repeatedly we have evidence, which supports these theories of limitations for women in the workplace. The Engender Audit (1996: 4) and the Glass Ceiling Commission (1993: 12) both state that women make up the largest majority in low wage, low prestige, and dead-end jobs.
Throughout society, we have evidence that women have social limitations, especially in terms of the labour market.
If we look at the Gender Pay Gap, we see that there are several factors that account for the difference.
1. Women are seen to have shorter, more discontinuous careers than men, by both employers and family oriented women.
2. Many women themselves feel the above to be true, as they are expected to perform household duties (unpaid) as their central role within the family, with men expected to be the main breadwinners.
3. As well as household duties, women are expected also to contribute to the family income, thus working part time or in low paid jobs.
4. Career women are discriminated against by employers on the basis of prejudice (e.g. woman may halt career and concentrate on family).
5. Overcrowding in “female” occupations drives their labour market value down and women are consequently paid less.
For these reasons, it is seen that women, by social expectation, are discriminated against in the job market and in career advancement. Their choice of occupation is limited to low paid occupations in many cases because of either expectations or discrimination. I feel that the lack of equality in the employment market means potential is lost to employers and the people being discriminated against.