Do Women Really 'Hold the Cards' in Our Modern Economy?

You may have read a controversial and thought-provoking article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine called "The End of Men." The article poses the following question: "What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?" After all, as author Hanna Rosin points out, many more men than women lost their jobs during the recent recession, women now make up the majority of the U.S. workforce, most of the job categories that are expected to grow in the next decade are dominated by women, and women are obtaining more B.A. degrees than men. Ms. Rosin believes that all of these developments suggest that "the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards."

But is the picture really that rosy for women?

Although more women than men are in the workforce, it is of note that the percentage of women in senior executive and board positions is low and has remained stagnant. According the "2009 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors," women held only 15.2 percent of board of director seats at Fortune 500 companies in 2009—the same percentage as the prior year. Also, according to the "2009 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners," women held 13.5 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2009 and just 6.3 percent of top-earner positions.

In her article, Ms. Rosin concedes that “prominent female CEOs, past and present, are so rare that they count as minor celebrities.” The only bright side—which offers little consolation—is that female CEOs tend to earn more than their male counterparts and get bigger raises. Ms. Rosin doesn’t even mention that few women are being appointed to board seats or adequately confront the existence of the significant wage disparity in the workforce between men and women, CEO positions notwithstanding.

Is the fact that women have overtaken men in the workplace really just an unfortunate reality that women are simply less expensive to employ then men? As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently pointed out, "In 2009, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings that were about 80 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts." While the wage gap was not as wide among younger workers, women who were 35 years and older earned "roughly three-fourths as much as their male counterparts" last year. (See the BLS' report on women's earnings in 2009.)

Perhaps it may be premature to declare, as Ms. Rosin believes, that the economy is becoming “more congenial to women” and “a place where women hold the cards.”

Equality of Pay in Recessionary Times

Two interesting articles were published this month that highlight current pay disparities between men and women.

In the New York Times article entitled "Why Is Her Paycheck Smaller?" (March 1, 2009), author Hannah Fairfield asks why women still continue to earn less than men do in the same job. She then provides some answers--such as men typically have more experience and log in more hours than women. Also, women tend to work in the lower-wage service sector, while men pick higher wage jobs in management and business. The article also features an interactive chart where you can learn how much more or less women earn than men at specific jobs.

Meanwhile, The Bureau of National Affairs' Daily Labor Report (DLR) states that the share of nonfarm payroll jobs held by women actually increased during the first year of the recession (see "Economic Outlook: Women Boost Share of Jobs in First Year Of Recession, Near Historic Parity With Men," March 2, 2009). Even though women lost 617,000 jobs in 2008, men lost 2.4 million jobs during the same period and account for almost 80% of all job losses. By the end of 2008, the men's share of the U.S. workforce fell to 51.7%. If this drop continues, women may soon make up the majority of the workforce. However, even if women and men reach numerical equality in the workforce, the article notes that women are still far from achieving equality in pay.

Equal pay is a hot-button issue these days because more and more families depend solely upon women's earnings to meet their financial obligations. Obviously, these families want the "mommy breadwinner" to earn as much as men, so that there's more money to spend.

Both articles mention some of the steps that the U.S. government has taken to equalize pay among men and women. For example, the recently enacted Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 expands a worker's right to sue his/her employer for inequality of wages. Also, as Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) noted in the DLR article, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program "contains significant efforts to save or create jobs in education and the service sector, where women dominate."

What opportunities are presented for women in the wake of an "economic tsumami" How can we position ourselves in the new economy to take advantage of the changing professional environment?

Male/Female Pay Disparities Exist, But for How Much Longer?

The results of a new survey concerning pay disparities among men and women made us cringe. Based on 25 years' of information collected by the federal government, the study reveals that men who hold a traditional view of a woman’s role in society make more money than men who are egalitarian and more modern thinkers. Although we felt that the results aren't earth-shattering, we were unhappy to see how large the pay gap is. As reported in the Washington Post, "Men with traditional attitudes about gender roles earned $11,930 more a year than men with egalitarian views and $14,404 more than women with traditional attitudes." Also, women with egalitarian attitudes about the role of women in the workplace tend to earn slightly more ($1,500) than women with traditional attitudes about the role of women.

On a brighter note, the survey indicates that more and more Americans are becoming egalitarian in their perspective of the women's role in the workplace. And researchers suggest that "disparities in income might recede as egalitarian views become more prevalent."

In our opinion, no one should be rewarded for being sexist. Also, the traditional view that women should stay in the kitchen doesn't make sense in today's crumbling U.S. economy, where many families’ survival depends on the woman earning a salary.

What were your thoughts when you read the survey? Have you encountered traditional-minded attitudes about women at your job?