Tuesday, 23 September 2008

She works hard for the money

Two readers have independently contacted me about a North American study just released in the last few days which shows that men who take on non-traditional roles earn less than men who stick to the more archaic public/private division of labour. You can read about it on the BBC's website here, or peruse Little Mis Brightshine's thoughts over here. The guts of it (dollar amounts are US$):
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Florida, was conducted on a large scale, with 12,686 men and women interviewed in 1979, when they were aged between 14 and 22, and three times in the following two decades, the last time in 2005.

The researchers asked them whether they believed a woman's place was in the home, or whether the employment of women was likely to lead to higher rates of juvenile delinquency.

Predictably, more men tended to hold these views than women, although the gap has narrowed significantly over time.

However, when the men were asked about their salaries, another gap emerged, with those holding "traditional" views earning significantly more.

Conversely, women who held the opposite view did earn slightly more, on average $1,500 (£833) more than women with "traditional" views.

All sorts of theories abound about why this might be; men who wield power in their relationships also do so in their jobs and thus end up more highly paid; women in the workplace, and men who take on non-traditional roles, are subtly discriminated against; work that has historically been done primarily by women is significantly undervalued whether it is paid or unpaid; men who are the only source of income for their family are more likely to get promoted because their employer recognises they need the money (I find that one a bit bizarre).

For my family this potential pay gap is about to become highly relevant. After nine months off from my paid job, while my partner worked full time in the job he's had a while, we are about to swap places; swivelly chairs for high chairs, pant suits for sleepy suits, that kind of thing.

I don't have any particular worries about my workplace, or my employer's attitude to mothers. They've certainly been great so far, and made it clear they are looking forward to having me back on Monday.

But I am starting to get the impression I'm lucky. I have observed other employers treating mothers who work less kindly than fathers who do so, particularly when mum first comes back from maternity leave. Anyone who has read I Don't Know How She Does It cannot escape the observation Reddy makes, that men who leave early to attend a child's sports event are Fathers of the Year, while women who are a little bit late because their offspring vomited all night are letting their home life get in the way of their work.

I'm sure this attitude is changing, for the better, and many women, in New Zealand anyway, don't face frequent and open disapproval for not staying home full time until their child is at school. But it's the subtle stuff that dismays me still. In my office there are a number of fathers of young children, and in some ways they have blazed a trail for me. One has an arrangement that he comes into work a bit later so he can take his kids to school; another takes off a week in each school holidays to look after his three children; a third took a month off at the birth of his daughter and negotiated a day a week working from home. My hope is that as more men ask, and are granted, arrangements like this it becomes easier for mothers too.

I guess I'll be finding out in the coming months...

6 comments:

Hugh said...

I have a suspicion that it's the other way round - that the pay disparity causes sexism, or at least reinforces sexist stereotypes. A man who doesn't earn as much will not see a significant pay gap between he and his female co-workers, while a man who earns a lot is likely to earn more than almost all the women he associates with professionally. Given that capitalist societies reinforce the idea that earning power = self worth, the high-earning man is likely to see this as confirmation of any suspicions he has that women can't hack it.

Hopefully we are not going to see men adopting sexist attitudes to get ahead.

alison said...

It's very difficult to be a person who works 60 or 80 hours a week, unless you have someone at home (paid or unpaid) to do all the unpaid work that you never have an opportunity to do - housework, childcare, bill-paying and so on. Given the high proportion of highly-paid people who are expected to work well over 40 hours a week, I don't think it's any surprise that the people most likely to be able to live up to those expectations are men who have traditional ideas on gender, and therefore choose wives who dutifully provide all those services for their husbands.

One of the toughest barriers for many women getting to the top is that they typically don't have anyone in a traditional "wifely" supporting role (obviously some have nannies and/or housekeepers, but their job descriptions are nowhere near as wide-ranging as a traditional wife).

alison said...

Second paragraph was missing a line;

One of the toughest barriers for many women getting to the top is that they typically don't have anyone in a traditional "wifely" supporting role (obviously some have nannies and/or housekeepers, but their job descriptions are nowhere near as wide-ranging as a traditional wife), and yet having someone in that role is almost a prerequisite for many high-powered, high-paid positions, because it's impossible to maintain a life outside work without.

sophie said...

men who are the only source of income for their family are more likely to get promoted because their employer recognises they need the money (I find that one a bit bizarre).

I don't find this bizarre because I've seen it crop up as an issue several times in discussions with farmers on on forums about farm employment. Traditionalists do believe that a man with a family deserves a higher wage than a man without, or a woman - regardless of the work they actually do for that 'living wage'. I can see the logic, but the bottom line is that it's discrimination, it's not 'equal work for equal pay', more a question of 'renumeration that matches worker + dependents needs' (and women of course aren't considered to have dependents because their 'work' is for their own benefit, giving them time out of the home while the sometimes fictional male partner remains the main breadwinner).

artandmylife said...

IN regard to Sophie's comment. When I first arted working in the 80s it was for a government department (that was soon privatsised). It used to infruriate me that my co-workers got pay rises as they got married and had children. It seemed so unfair to me at the time. Now that I am a SAHM with 3 little ones I would be very happy if my partners employers had a similar scheme.

I actually would be in total support of a family wage where the primary caregiver of children didn't HAVE to find work outside the home to make ends meet unless they wanted to. However that's kind of what working for families is doing for us.

Anonymous said...

"men who wield power in their relationships also do so in their jobs and thus end up more highly paid" - I know the type all too well. I don't envy anyone who thinks that dominance over their partner and high earnings in the workplace is success. Sounds more like a case of being a knob at home and being a knob at work.