Opinion leaders such as Slate’s Hanna Rosin and The New York Times’ David Brooks have popularized the “end of men” thesis—that women have achieved gender equality and are even overtaking men in the economy.
Malarkey, says a major new study from UC San Diego.
“The first step is to see through this myth that women are doing better than men,” says Mary Blair-Loy, associate professor of sociology in Division of Social Sciences at UCSD and founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions.
“Our report looks at the broad patterns shaping life chances that individuals may not be aware of—the underlying trends that continue to shape women’s and men’s opportunities in the workforce.”
The 13-page report [see attached PDF] is titled “The Persistence of Male Power and Prestige in the Professions.”
Blair-Loy thanks Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg “for inciting discussion about gender disparities in the workplace. But to solve this issue, we need to look beyond the behavior of individuals and to recognize the structural barriers that continue to disadvantage and discourage.”
Society needs to make legal and organizational changes, said Blair-Loy, author of Competing Devotions: Career and Family among Women Executives.
Changes will need to range “from better access to childcare and greater acceptance of flexible work schedules to more transparent hiring, evaluation and promotion procedures,” she said.
What the end-of-men narrative ignores, said Blair-Loy, is that not all service-economy jobs are created equal.
Women are well-represented, at times even over-represented, in the low-paying service jobs (think retail or hospitality), but men continue to dominate in the highest paid and most highly regarded careers, UCSD said.
The report surveys the status of women and men in the American workforce and provides three in-depth case studies in the professions of law, medicine, and science and engineering.
The team focused on these three for two reasons.
- They are some of the best-paid occupations in the service economy.
- And they are historically male-dominated fields where women have made tremendous gains in education.
“Women are under-represented in all three professions,” Blair-Loy and her report coauthors write. “They are rarest in the most powerful sectors and at the highest levels.”
In Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s industry of science and engineering, women make up only 21 percent of scientists and engineers. In science/engineering university teaching, women hold 36 percent of adjunct and temporary faculty positions, but only 28 percent of tenure-track and 16 percent of full professor positions.
In the medical profession, women are only 34 percent of physicians but 91 percent of registered nurses. In law firms, where Hillary Clinton started out, women make up 45 percent of associates but only 15 percent of equity partners.
The gender pay gap continues as well.
“The momentum of movement toward income equality gained in the 1970s and 1980s has largely stagnated since the mid-1990s,” the report authors write.
Reviewing the latest available data, they state that among full-time workers, women earn only 81 percent of what men do. In the prestigious professions that the report scrutinizes, the gap is just about the same: In science and engineering, the figure is 86 percent on average.
Among lawyers, it is 87 percent, and among physicians and surgeons, 79 percent. Even after controlling for work time, experience, specialty, and other factors, significant wage gaps between women and men professionals persist, Blair-Loy said.
Blair-Loy and her coauthors document not only that women are paid less and are under-represented past the entry level but also that the numbers of women earning advanced degrees that qualify them for these professions in the first place have stagnated and even slightly declined since the mid-2000s.
“Four decades after Title IX, the low-hanging fruit is gone, and the why is complicated,” Blair-Loy said. “There are a series of interlocking factors that include workplace cultures that privilege men and cognitive biases that shape what we notice and remember about male and female workers.
“Even the most well-intentioned people among us default to cultural stereotypes—that men are more likely to be competent and professional while women are more likely to be warm and nurturing—that undermine our efforts to reward talent alone.”
—A UCSD press release contributed to this report.