— News

— Society

— Work

Gender inequalities at work: extent and main causes

While women are now on average more educated than men, they remain lower paid in the labour market. In 2023 in France, they would have started working “for free” on November 6 at 11:25 am. How do you achieve this? And how can we explain that such discrepancies remain? After an overview of the different ways of measuring gender inequalities in the workplace, Thomas Breda reviews the main explanations highlighted by the research.

As far as the wage gap is concerned, the statistics are pouring in: women are sometimes paid 25% less than men, sometimes 15%, 10% or even 5%. To understand these figures, it is necessary to understand what they cover. The widest gap corresponds to the gender labour earnings gap in general relative to the average income of men (rather than that of women, a convention that tends to reduce the gaps measured). It is now between 24% and 30% depending on the source (tax or social security data) and the exact method used. The entire population of working age – or, in some cases, having worked at least one hour in the year – is considered, and income is not reduced to working time, nor is it adjusted for any explanatory factors.

Reflecting gender inequality

This “global” gap is important because it reflects all the economic inequalities between women and men related to work. Almost half of this is explained by differences in labour market participation (whether or not they work) and working hours (full versus partial). Thus, the wage gap per hour worked is around 15%. Once adjusted for differences in age or experience, occupation and qualification, the gap narrows to around 10%. Finally, and perhaps less well known, the hourly wage gap between women and men in the same socio-professional category (blue-collar, white-collar, intermediate or managerial occupation) and working in the same company is now only 5%. This last “company-specific” gap is important because it corresponds to the gap that can be reduced by policies specifically targeting companies. To put it another way, if the public decision-maker were to force companies to completely reduce the wage gap between women and men at the same hierarchical level, there would still be an overall gap in work-related income of more than 20%: it is therefore clear that in order to be truly effective, public policies must address gender inequalities and their causes in a more global way.

Two main explanatory factors have been identified to explain these inequalities. Firstly, the differences in educational orientation and then in occupation between women and men. Among tertiary graduates, these differences account for about one-third of the hourly wage gap. It is in particular the under-representation of women in scientific fields that generates these career inequalities. The work on “the paradox of gender equality” shows that this under-representation does not disappear, either over time or as countries develop. Thus, the most developed or gender-equal countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, etc.) are also those where the under-representation of women in science is the greatest. Studies in sociology and gender studies suggest that gender stereotypes associating science with men rather than women are not disappearing; On the contrary, they can take on greater importance in societies that are more individualistic and give an important part to self-realization through work.

The Importance of Role Models

So how can we limit the effects of occupational segregation on wage inequalities between women and men? A first option is to raise the profile of female-dominated professions. It is legitimate if we consider that lower wages in these occupations are more the result of an unfavourable balance of power (lower wages reflect, for example, the fact that these sectors are traditionally less unionized) than of the fact that they are less value-added. It is difficult to provide a completely scientific answer to such a fundamental question. However, the spotlight on essential professions, which are largely feminized, during the Covid crisis certainly offers food for thought. A second option is to encourage girls and boys to go more into fields where they are underrepresented. One proven method for this is the use of role models. The aim is to make visible women and men working in professions traditionally reserved for the other gender and to promote exchanges between them and students who are in the process of deciding on their orientation. This approach is effective in limiting the influence of gender stereotypes and changing orientation. It is justified if it will not lead students to make choices that they may regret, for example because they go against their “preferences” or lead them to have worse careers or be discriminated against.

The second explanatory factor, and probably the main one, is the work-life balance. Numerous studies have shown that at the time of the birth of the first child, women’s careers and incomes drop significantly and permanently compared to those of men. This dropout has been observed in many countries, regardless of the generosity of maternity, paternity or parental leave and regardless of the availability of childcare solutions in the vicinity of parents. The key observation is that it is never made up: even as children grow up, women do not catch up on the career gap they have gained at the time of their birth.

Greedy work, “the work that devours”

Obviously, gender norms related to child-rearing in particular and domestic work in general play a central role in explaining this dropout. However, the work of Claudia Goldin, winner of the 2023 Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences, and her concept of greedy work , allows us to go further in understanding the issues related to work-life balance. Using surveys of working conditions, Goldin shows that in the United States, the gender pay gap is widest in industries that require employees to have a high degree of flexibility and high availability of hours. Thus, women are particularly poorly paid compared to men in commercial professions, whereas in science, for example, where they are few in number, they have careers almost equivalent to those of men. To gain a better understanding of how working conditions will affect gender inequality, Goldin combines economic theory with a large set of longitudinal surveys of graduates of prestigious American universities. She explains that when there are convex career returns to working a lot, couples have a financial incentive to specialize when children are born, with one continuing to invest heavily in their work, and the other then having no choice but to limit their workload and level of flexibility. Thus, by making it unprofitable to share tasks equitably in certain sectors, the organization of work allows social norms implicitly placing family responsibilities on women to come into full play.

To support this explanation, Goldin shows that among law graduates or holders of an MBA from a major American university, the gender gap is limited at the beginning of their careers but becomes very large after 10 years, especially among graduates who have become parents. It shows that this increase is largely attributable to differences in investment in work and availability, which appear especially after the birth of the first child. On the other hand, the widening of inequalities over the course of a career is much less pronounced among pharmacists, a profession that does not require as much flexibility and allows you to control your hours. For Goldin, the last key step to finally achieve equality in the workplace between women and men is therefore to thoroughly review its organization, to ensure that parents who can no longer be fully available for their work do not find themselves put on the back burner.

Let us conclude with a word on discrimination. Recent experiments on discrimination in hiring in France based on the sending of fictitious CVs (testing) show that women are on average as likely to be called back for a job interview as men. Their chances are even higher for qualified positions in traditionally male-dominated fields, or for those with managerial functions. Having young children or being in the process of having children does not change these conclusions. Thus, the fight against discrimination, even if it always appears legitimate, is not enough to reduce gender inequalities in the workplace. Consistent with Goldin’s work, recent research suggests that women’s dropout at this point in their life trajectory can be explained by a reduction in working hours or a reorientation towards jobs that are more reconcilable with their personal constraints (closer to home, more in the public service, etc.) but generally less well paid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

— To go further