Are women gaining, or are men losing?

by d


the IT job market right now. what i'm up against

Image by philcampbell via Flickr


The 2009 US Census data is in! The headline, according to the AP, is that the number of people currently married has dropped to a record low of 52%, down five points from 2000. The Census isn’t geared toward finding the reason for this, but we can guess that a large part of it is economic.

Here’s a stat that interests me:

Women’s average pay still lags men’s, but the gap is narrowing. Women with full-time jobs made 78.2 percent of men’s pay, up from 77.7 percent in 2008 and about 64 percent in 2000, as men took bigger hits in the recession.

Yay for women, we’re closing the gap!

Hang on a minute, sister. Are women’s wages going up, or are men’s going down?

In tough economic times, companies look for ways to trim their expenses. One of those expenses is labor. They start by looking at who’s costing them the most. That would be senior employees who have been with the company for a long time. Bye-bye, veteran employees! The young things without as much experience or heft get to stay. They work their way through the hierarchy.

Oh, look. Sally and Jim are doing the same job, in the same department, for the same amount of time, but we pay Jim more.

Bye-bye, Jim.

This isn’t fair to Jim or to Sally. They were doing the same work–all else being equal, only gender set them apart. There’s no good reason for him to earn more just for being a man. They should have received the same pay for the same work. When it came time to thinning the staff, the decision could then have been made based on competency and the value of each individual. Maybe Jim is better with customers while Sally is a whiz at persuasive reports. The company would then have to decide which of those skills is more necessary, not which employee they can more easily take advantage of.

Jim, now laid off, has been cast into an impossible job market. He will now be competing against record high numbers of applicants for every position. And you can bet some employers will look at him–he who is a him–and know that they will ultimately wind up paying him more than if they hire a woman, or an immigrant, or someone of another race. They won’t do anything overt, because that would be illegal, but the scale is already tipped against Jim. Jim will be forced to low-ball his salary requests, shooting for less than what he (and Sally) are worth. Consequently, the common wage for that position will drop, hurting everyone except the companies obsessed with their bottom lines.

Meanwhile, Sally is left at the firm to do her work and Jim’s. She may even take a pay cut. And she’ll be told to be grateful she still has a job.

Everyone loses in this scenario.

I hope that this isn’t what’s happening, but I fear that it is. Lets hope someone does their own data collection on the topic.

More on this topic: Male Panic!: Women Get Jobs, Men Get Depressed?

6 Responses to “Are women gaining, or are men losing?”

  1. I’d love to know those numbers, too. They might make for an interesting policy discussion when it comes to how jobs are created in this rapidly changing economy that refuses to make sense.

  2. I think that’s probably exactly what’s happening. And, you’re right, it sucks. It would benefit everyone if we had equal pay for equal work. And, you know, I mean actually enforcing that…not just putting there in writing and pretending it’s enforced when it isn’t.

    I’m hoping someone looks into these numbers, as well. I, too, wonder how it would turn out.

  3. Great article, D. It’s spot on.

    However, the part on Jim getting discriminated against because he’s male (and costs more) is more often the case in low-rank positions than in upper-rank ones.

    What you described routinely occurs in poor, peripheral areas and for low-ranking positions— such as in the garment industry (sweatshops “employed” women and children for hundreds of years! Feeling empowered yet?) This “female preference” is also the case in many “secondary positions,” such as nurses (as opposed to physicians) and secretaries (as opposed to upper-management). “Secondary” does not mean the positions are of secondary importance, just that they have a lot of applicants, relatively low pay, comparatively low entry requirements, and directly involve taking orders (either from a doctor, a management executive, or a sweatshop overseer.)

    “Secondary positions” are crucial for any company, but management wants to save money, so they hire women or feminize the position to scare off male applicants. The darker reason some managers do this is because they enjoy being in a position of power over women (it used to be routine and even acceptable for powerful men to have affairs with secretaries, and for doctors to unprofessionally oggle “sexy nurses.”) Abuse of power is frighteningly common for women in garment sweatshops, who are often raped, assaulted, and sexually harassed as intimidation (I tell this to anyone who preaches that sweatshop labor “keeps women from selling their bodies.”)

    So, women have the “privilege” to beat out men for sweatshop labor, nursing jobs, and as secretaries. However, for management jobs and jobs that allow women to give orders instead of take them, women do not have an advantage no matter how bad the economy gets.

    That’s why you still don’t see as many female physicians or CEOs as you see female sweatshop workers.

    • Yes, it’s -so- much better to work in a sweatshop than as a prostitute. After all, you can take your kids to work WITH you at the sweatshop!

      The universally low opinion of nurses really angers me–and it’s those people who will be hurt by their attitude. Nurses are the backbone of any medical facility. They do a huge amount of the work (it’s ‘beneath’ the doctors to check on patients, administer meds, oversee tests, etc) and have far more interaction with patients. If they walked out, any office or hospital would collapse. For all this, they’re under-appreciated, underpaid, and overworked.

      Even better, a Nurse Practitioner can effectively replace a doctor for routine and minor visits, like a typical virus or a physical. They can prescribe medications and have extensive knowledge. They do more hands on work, sooner, so they often become better at treating people than cerebral doctors.

      To demean all this as lesser, weaker, dumber, feminine, is insulting on so many levels. Nurses are essential. True, their role has expanded a great deal since Way Back When–they do more than pass the scalpels. And they deserve respect for that.

      Nursing should NOT be seen as lesser. And no one should feel that they’re ‘settling’ when they become a nurse.

      • I completely agree with you. Hospitals could not run without nurses, and nurses deserve more respect (and pay) than they currently receive.

        The reason I referred to them as a secondary position was not because of “secondary importance,” but because of how their work is paid and socially regarded. Specifically, its its large pool of applicants (there are more female Nursing candidates than female physicians), low pay, comparatively low entry requirements (which does not translate to a low or easy work level), and that they have to follow orders from doctors. Although nurses can give doctors orders, and many do, hospitals are hierarchical places where doctors have the last word (even when it isn’t in the best interest of the patient: prevent.


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