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Gender Employment

So far this term we have talked a lot about the employment factors and the process behind being unemployed. This graph above shows the respective employment to gender population rate in the United States over the last 65 years. There is a clear divide in the 50s' that gradually closes over time, not necessarily in one given year. World War II was during this time period causing male employment rate to drop, and female employment rate to rise. What are some of the economic factors and social factors that contribute to this closing? Do these social changes add to/are behind Levinson's ideology for "An Extraordinary Time?"

Looking towards the future, will the gap ever completely shut (in our lifetime/how long)? What does this mean for our economy and social climate going forward? Economically, what do we need to do to close this gap?

Kyle Perel and Andrew Blair

23 thoughts on “Gender Employment

  1. johnsonj20

    An emphasis on equal education for both genders and a broader, more diverse availability of jobs have helped close the gap in employment between genders. Whereas women used to be housewives by default as their husbands likely toiled on the farm or in a factory, the labor shift in the economy from manufacturing to service has seen many more women enter the labor force. Income inequality was rampant when the technology boom saw demand for labor in the manufacturing industry plummet because wage growth dropped precipitously in that sector. On the other hand, more balanced employment by gender should promote income equality, providing more stable wages and thereby supporting job security and investment. In that sense, social equality adds to Levinson's idea of "An Extraordinary Time."
    The fate of the future gap lies in the jobs that demand the most labor and the skillsets of men versus women in those areas. Education should stress a core curriculum for both genders so that graduates have at least some skill in the areas demanding the most jobs. Furthermore, wage equality among genders should be emphasized so that men and women looking for the same job are equally incentivized. If these objectives are achieved, then the gap in employment between genders would theoretically close.

    1. the prof

      In the era before refrigeration, keeping house for a family was more-or-less a full-time job. Washing clothes was done by hand. Wood had to be chopped for cooking. Canned goods weren't generally available until the late 1800s. Only the wealthy few could afford iceboxes. Ready-made clothing was not readily available, and what could be ordered from the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog (delivered weeks later) had to be fitted, ditto anything from the general store. Women were also generally involved in an array of farm tasks, even if they left the plowing to the men. To be a Norwegian bachelor farmer (cf Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion) meant a life of privation. A wife and kids were necessary to have some ability for intra-household specialization and the higher productivity and incomes that come with that. Think comparative advantage writ small!

  2. liur20

    one of the most important important social factor that determined this closing gap is because of the human rights movements in the 20th century. In any centuries before this period, women is considered automatically be housewives and men is the major work force for the family. During WWII, mens are fighting in Europe and Asia, leaving the factories in the U.S. empty and high in demand for production. This is really the starting of the closing of the gap between women and men employment rate. After WWII, we see the gap still remained closing this suggests that the shift in the economic system in the U.S. caused this closing to continue. Manufacturing jobs no longer takes a huge proportion of the employment market and it gradually shifted into service. This caused men and women to have a relatively close employment gap. The other factor that caused this change is because of education. More and more women are graduating from college and adding to the working force. Causing the employment rate to close up onto.

  3. wilkinsonw20

    During World War II, as men went overseas to fight, the United States experienced a shift in the labor force caused by the lack of workers. As a result, women were recruited and allowed for the first time to prove themselves as contributors in the labor force. This coupled with large scale campaigns to keep the women in the work force after WW2 resulted in this gap slowly closing as each generation became more educated/prepared to enter the work force. Additionally, in the years following WW2, the US transitioned from more of a labor economy, to a service economy, and this new welfare state created many new areas of work that were often looked at as women’s work. This economic and social changes served well to help decrease the gap in male vs female employment however since around 1990, the gap has remained at a near constant rate. Regarding our economy, and what needs to be done to further close this gap moving forward, we must change the distribution of men and women across different occupations. By declassifying certain occupations as female or male jobs, we should expect a trend similar to years before the 1990s.

    1. Nate Abercrombie

      Some occupations are still heavily comprised of one gender in the U.S., and many of those are not showing strong signs of changing soon. Cultural and economic changes can be extremely intertwined, but culture tends to change much more slowly. Women comprise over 80% of all bachelor degrees for education, which is just one example of an occupation that leans heavily toward one gender. However, women are 9% more likely to earn a bachelors degree than men nowadays, which suggests that the pay gap and employment gap will continue to near gender equality. It is interesting that the post-war period that Levinson praises for its miraculous economic leaps was also the period that women made great strides in closing the gender employment gap. The now "normal" economy that we have since returned to has not showed the same ability to do so.

  4. hermana20

    Presumably before the graph starts in 1948, the gap between the Employment Population Ratios for Men and Women was relatively constant or at most increasing very slightly with most women staying home under the roles of domestic housewives, and daughters who were cared for by their fathers and brothers. As men left to fight in WWII, women entered the work force for the first time working in "pink collar" jobs as secretaries, administrators, and eventually in rosin-the-riveter jobs in factories. When men returned from WWII, the expectation was that many women would go back to their domestic lives, so that all the GI's could return to the workforce, however, many women stayed and continued to work after the close of the war. The key here, is that the workforce essentially doubled over the course of a few years as women began to work in addition to all of the men who were working. This doubling in productivity surely did contribute to the Golden Age, although, since it was labor that was doubled, Robert Gordon would argue that this boost in productivity could only be executed once in the history of America, while new productivity growth would have to come from an increase in total factor productivity which likely means increasing technological innovation. I agree with Jack's point underscoring the importance of Equal Pay for Equal Work to incentivize more women to work. Although women have recently surpassed men in college enrollment, women still suffer from shorter maternity leaves in the U.S. Also, it is quite difficult for many women to reintegrate into the workforce and "catch up" after having a child and being out of the workforce for a substantial amount of time (this affects seniority and work experience).

    1. yuy20

      Closing the gap will be a long and slow process as society adjusts to new changes. As Ayub mentioned, it's very difficult for women to return to a previous job after childbirth since they haven't had the same career growth as others in their career. However, new ideas such as telecommuting and job sharing may allow women to keep progressing in their jobs even if it's not full-time. Looking at the graph, it has taken around 60 years to close the gap substantially; going forward, progress will most likely be slower to create a smaller gap. Social acceptance of both genders and their personalities in various roles has been and will be a major factor in this gap. Even though more women now are in higher positions and more varied workplaces, there are still issues such as differences in responses when a woman or man is negotiating for a pay raise. A diverse workforce is always beneficial for creating new perspectives and ideas; economically, striving to support more women in leadership positions would create a better environment for new changes in our workplaces.

      1. the prof

        Societies are discovering that there are in fact many careers that can be interrupted for a few years and restarted. And others where that's harder – lab science is highly competitive and highly labor-intensive, and in some segments fast-moving. Starting over is hard. Ditto senior corporate management.

        Or maybe not! – it's an empirical question, and I don't know the data.

  5. thaia19

    I have read that after the extraordinary time after WWII, when economic growth stagnated, families could no longer afford to support themselves with only men working, and women staying home. Women as a result began seeking employment more than they had in the past, and continued working after they were married, something that had not been as common in years prior. As women gain more equal status, both socially and legally, their employment-population ratio will increase, and hopefully reach parity with males' employment-population ratio.

  6. the prof

    The history of women in the US labor market is quite interesting. Remember (well, even I don't) that until around 1900 half of all Americans lived on a farm (though not necessarily working on the farm). Formal labor markets, measured in this graph, were for city jobs (OK, and lots of seasonal agricultural employment, but that was explicitly not counted as being beyond the budget and capabilities of the Bureau of Labor Statistics – ditto in most lower income countries today, the data are often explicitly limited to "urban workers" and the CPI is only for "urban areas").

    The stay-at-home mom is much more a phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960s than of prior eras. In a 19th century farm household, before electricity and before gas stoves and before off-the-shelf clothing, keeping house was not a part-time job.

  7. the prof

    Another aside: at one time it was claimed, only partly in jest, that women went to college to pursue an Mrs. degree. When W&L went coed, there were clearly some among faculty and alumni who thought that way, and didn't want to admit women on that basis. In my 30 years here, it's very clear that the women who come to W&L have different ambitions. Some of that is greater opportunity: the glass ceiling may still be there, but there are many more careers open to women than teaching and healthcare. And even teaching has changed: one of my grandmothers got married in secret, because only single women were allowed to teach, and she didn't want to quit. The image of old maid teachers persisted into my school days, but was true only of some older women teachers, not of younger ones.

  8. lentza20

    It seems clear that the gap will never, or can never completely close. Regardless of whether we are living in "An Extraordinary Time" or not, the limits of the markets are too far reaching for the employment of men and women to be equal. Looking at the example of women as school teachers, that is one of the largest government employment types in the country. Despite the fact that there are more jobs available to women then just in education, it is still commonly accepted as a good field for women to go in to, in part because of the stability and also because of the benefits and flexibility to have a family. The basic values of women versus those of men will always be present in the economy, even if there are only echoes, the patriarchy persists in the labor force and is beyond the control of people to change it absolutely.

  9. Chris Vogel

    I think we can see the gap to continue to diminish because, unlike in the mid 1900's, there is less social expectation and less overall need for a "stay at home" mom. There is definitely still bias in the work force between genders, but, now more than ever, there is serious effort to combat this. Technological advancements have also lessened the need to perform laborious tasks around the house, so it is easier for both parents of a family to work. As not only the US, but the whole world, comes around to this standard of gender equality, the gap should essentially disappear.

  10. Juliana Kerper

    I think in the long run we will definitely see the employment gender gap diminish, and even completely vanish, though this day is far off and possibly not in our lifetime. In countries like the United States that place a high importance on the value of education for both genders, have shifted from an industrial to service economy, and place emphasis on getting certain genders into traditionally "gendered" areas of work will close the gap sooner than other countries that are not experiencing/have experienced these things. I also agree with the point stated above that the slower economic growth we're experiencing now could be slowing the closing of the gap. I also think that this issue is closely tied with Levinson's book. Closing the wage gap and the employment gap will lead to social and economic equality in the long run.

  11. motturt20

    I think this is entirely a distribution based on social and ideological norms. Civil rights and social justice movements post 1950 certainly fought back the prevailing family model of the husband as sole breadwinner, which created an impetus for women to go do what their mothers were not as readily able to do: build a career. This is evident in college populations today, where US census data shows women making up increasingly larger portions of undergraduate enrollment, having already out-populated men for decades.
    Additionally, it is likely that technological changes will affect women more than men. Typical male, blue collar jobs are the ones easiest to automate in many cases. For instance, the most common job for a man in the US is a driver of some sort: Self driving cars will likely replace the majority of these positions in the future, making the present female advantage in college degree earning rates even more apparent.

  12. williamse19

    Like many have stated above me, I think the gap is indeed closing due to societal shifts. Once men left the labor force to fight in World War II, women were needed to fill their shoes in factories and other jobs they vacated. This causes women as a whole to have more human capital; that is, they are more educated and experienced in the work force and more likely to be hired. This trend only became more significant as women's movements swept through the nation and more and more women are waiting to have children and opting to go to college instead. I believe we will see parity in our lifetimes especially as our generation and the generation below us enters the workforce.

  13. hartigank20

    This gap began to close when men went off to fight in WWII. During this time, the women of the country had to take over and fill the open spots in the labor force. After the War, women wanted to keep their jobs and although many were forced out by men, many were able to keep jobs. This lead to a decrease in employment to gender population rate. Changes in education has also helped women’s opportunities in the labor market. Increasing education levels for women have improved their participation in the labor force. Also, changes in family norms such as increases in the age of marriage and declines in fertility have helped contribute to the closing of the gap. This employment-population gap has been rapidly decreasing for years but I’m not sure that it can ever be fully equal due to the inequalities and expectations of women still present today.

  14. Mac

    Based on the current trend of the gender employment graph above, there will be a time when the rates are equal and one gender is not favored more than the other. I do not know when this event will occur, but I believe it to happen in the new future if we continue to grow socially as a country. As stated by others above, education plays a large role in the gender inequalities in the workforce. The government has the power to control how/when the gender rates level out by subsidizing and funding more educational programs nationally that appeal to both genders. With the immense amount of power the government has today, it is very feasible for regulations and programs to expedite the closure of this gap. I also believe the gender inequality mentality is becoming nonexistent as younger generations have accepted the changing social norms that older generations are not accustomed to. Economically, businesses can work to equalize their wages among their workers based on skill and not gender differences.

  15. Kathryn Martin

    Since 1950 until the present, the gender gap in employment is decreasing. Like many other have already said, there are several reasons for this shift in employment. During World War II, women effectively contributed to the economy while the men were fighting in the war. Since that "extraordinary time", women were valued as more than just mothers and a homemakers. A major factor is increasing numbers of women in higher education. As more women seek education, average family size decreases. The closing gap reflects changing societal views and expectations for women. While many strides have been made toward equal gender representation in the workforce, there is still a noticeable gap. I don't think we will see legitimate equality unless there aren't stereotypical male professions vs. female professions (ie. doctor vs. nurse)

  16. gutierrezcuadras20

    Some economic and social factors that have led to this closing in gender employment includes the onslaught of WWII that created a decrease in supply of male workers with an increase in the demand of workers especially in the industrial sector. Therefore women filled this void of workers for jobs in order to help with the war effort. Additionally, the idea that a college education proves beneficial in increasing income led to more women attending and graduating colleges. Better educated women allowed many to enter highly skilled professions such as in medical, law, and engineering fields that men dominate. Therefore, such major change did add to the "extraordinary" quality of the time.

    As the graph indicates, this gap has continually been closing and may eventually close altogether especially if the number of women in colleges comes to exceed the number of men. However, this may not happen in our lifetime given that the Great Recession, the worst economic, global crisis since the Great Depression, just recently happen and recovery still occurs. As more women enter the labor force and close the gender employment gap, the issue of wage equality then becomes pertinent and the new topic of discussion moving forward politically, economically, and socially. As a society, to close these gaps, we need to continue focusing on education and businesses need to discriminate less in the hiring process. They should hire those who possess the most apt skill for the job, regardless of gender.

  17. the prof

    How about demand-side factors? Several of you note WWII, but there are many intrinsic capabilities that are normally distributed in the population. If an economy values one such highly, then the "good" tail of the distribution of men gets depleted, and there is then a "pull" to employ women whose intrinsic skills are also on the "good" tail.

    This argument only gets you so far. Some economists argue that discrimination doesn't pay, and that firms that refused to employ blacks or women would be less profitable. The empirical evidence suggests that, if that process in fact exerts pressure, it doesn't exert enough to force employers that discriminate out of the market. Such pressures may work slight better for gender, where discrimination means turning away half of the labor force than for race, where it may be only 15% of the labor force.

  18. Lukas Campbell

    World War II was a direct cause of the shift in the labor force; as men left their labor-oriented jobs to fight overseas, the demand for factory work significantly increased, thus for the first time, women were being sought out directly to fill in the vacant positions. Since then, the labor market has diversified in a way that allowed more women to excel in certain careers, and begin to close the gender gap in employment. Currently, in comparison to the rapid closing of the gap from 1950-1990, the gap is much smaller, but is not closing at a faster rate. This may be because, while there are numerous social changes encouraging women to participate in jobs previously dominated by men, this kind of social change will take significant time to fully take effect. Therefore, the gap may not completely close in our lifetimes, but will still continue to close at a constant rate.

  19. grims20

    Like many have already previously stated, the closing between employment rates between men and women in the 1950s and onward is a direct effect from World War II. As men left to fight overseas, women began to work in the labor force to fill their jobs and maintain the efficiency of factories. Even after many men came back from war, women continued to stay in the labor force. This was the first major factor that led to the closing of the gender gap in employment. It is also important to note that in the early 20th century and years past, taking care of a family was a very difficult and time consuming role. This role was naturally placed on women and as a result, they would not have the time or energy to work in the labor force. As we have become more efficient and have developed products to ease the process of taking care of a home, it has given the opportunity for more women to enter the labor force. Women's Rights Movements also most likely had a major impact on the closing of the gender employment gap, as more women realized they had the ability to work on their own and earned the right to gain an education.

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