Women and jobs
What women do
Economic growth has surprisingly little effect on the wage gap
Sep 24th 2011 | from the print edition
Study hard, and you’ll earn more than me
“MEN are finished.” That was the proposition in a debate at New York University (NYU) on September 20th. Hardly. A World Bank report published the day before finds that, although particular groups of ill-educated young men are doing badly, and although women’s lives have improved a lot in the past 20 years, sexual inequality at work is remarkably stubborn. Globally, women earn 10-30% less than men. They are also concentrated in “women’s” jobs. Annoyingly, economic growth does not seem to narrow the gap.
This is surprising. You might expect that as countries get richer, women would become better educated and jobs requiring brute strength would become less important. Rich countries also have larger public sectors, where the wage gap is smaller. Yet overall, the gap is no smaller in rich countries such as Britain and the Netherlands than in poor ones such as the Philippines.
More striking, there is little sign that women are moving into traditionally male occupations. Men utterly dominate such beefy industries as transport and mining. A hefty 11% of men work in construction; only 1% of women do.
Women cluster in communications, retail and public administration, including education and health. This is true regardless of national income. Looking at Bangladesh, Mexico and Sweden, the bank found that men and women tended to separate themselves into the same sorts of occupation in all three countries. (Bangladeshi shops and hotels, which employed disproportionately more men, were exceptions.)
What explains all this? The World Bank suggests three reasons. First, discrimination. Some men think women are less capable, and some laws treat the sexes differently. Women also have fewer assets that can be turned into capital. Land is a prime example. In 16 poor countries, 55% of female-headed households own land, but 64% of male-headed ones do. Female plots are usually smaller, too. This makes it harder for women to start businesses. In China, South Africa and Senegal, the bank found, food-processing firms prefer to sign export contracts with men, since they fear women will find it harder to meet the terms of the contract. So women do not grow cash crops. This problem is not confined to poor countries: the European Union found women less likely to start a business than men, largely for lack of credit.
Next, women are sometimes less qualified than men. Though advances in female education are widespread, they are not universal. Among older workers, men tend to have spent longer studying. Also, in the few countries with statistics on the matter, male workers tend to have been employed for longer than women, giving them more work experience.
But the main reason that women cluster in low-paid fields, the bank argues, is that they do not control their own time. In rich Austria and Italy, women do at least three times as much housework and child care as men. In poorer Cambodia, they do 50% more. Income has little to do with this. Pakistani men allocate the same amount of time to paid work, housework and child care as Swedish men. Everywhere, this constrains women’s job choices.
Women are more likely than men to take part-time or informal work. This is sometimes a voluntary choice. But sometimes they are pushed by employers’ attitudes or sexist laws, such as those requiring a woman to get her husband’s permission to work. “Progress has been tremendous where lifting a single barrier is sufficient [for example, in education],” concludes the bank. But where multiple barriers exist, progress has been glacial. Manhattanites do not see this, however. The motion at NYU was carried.