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Why Is It So Hard to Fix the Wage Gap, Article Critique Example

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Article Critique

Amanda Hess’s article ‘Why is it so hard to fix the wage gap?’ (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/10/24/an_honest_conversation_about_the_wage_gap_between_men_and_women_why_is_it.html) offers an interesting and perceptive analysis of the current state of play in the American labor market with regard to differences between men and women’s pay. This paper will examine how it presents its findings and whether or not any bias is apparent, as well as any other relevant points of interest.

Hess begins her analysis by examining the response of the American political class, as exemplified by the Presidential candidates at this years’ election, to the issue of continuing pay inequality between men and women in the workplace. She clearly feels that the two candidates did little more than pay lip service to the issue, something which will be directly referred to later in this paper, in the section dealing with possible bias. She then goes on to examine the issue in greater detail and with greater specificity.

She does this by indicating some statistics, but also stating that true and accurate statistics are hard to get hold of on this issue. As she states: “Fenton’s 72 percent figure overstates the gap, but a true figure is difficult to pin down.” She presents statistics from several sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to show an overall picture where women lose out by up to 20 per cent in comparison the take home pay packets of their male counterparts. She describes the statistics she presents as, “really a snapshot of how women are undervalued across the workforce: It speaks to an occupational segregation gap, a negotiation gap, a promotion gap, a self-promotion gap, a mentorship gap, a parenting gap, a STEM gap, a political representation gap, and an overt discrimination gap. And still: Part of the wage gap remains unexplained. We do not know exactly why women are paid less.” This acknowledges that the overall picture is very complex, and more sensitive and discriminating methods of research are necessary in the future to gain a more accurate impression of the problem.

The gap itself may once have been down to perceived gender inequalities in the minds of employers in terms of which roles in society were traditionally occupied by women or men. Certainly, in the days when it was more likely that a woman might stay at home to raise children, clean and cook, rather than work, there might have been more rational justification for women earning less. That situation has altered radically in the years since World War Two though. As Lundberg and Pollack state in their article ‘American Family’: “Since the 1960s and 1970s, however, a framework that considered sex and childbearing only within the context of a committed partnership has become increasingly disconnected from reality.”

Women now have broken out from the restrictive gender roles of the past, but the inequality in pay still exists. Hess goes on to state that she favours a solution in which both government and individual employers take a part. In which various people, such as fathers of children with working mothers, voluntarily take on more child rearing and home making duties in order to allow their female partners greater economic autonomy. This may sound somewhat idealistic, but is consistent with an in-built American resistance to state intervention, however benign or necessary that state intervention may be.

Hess also chooses to highlight that pay is not the only problem; there are greater structural inequalities in the economy which prevent women from acquiring more wealth, even if they are adequately qualified to do so. She states: “When a woman secures a PhD, she can finally make as much money in her lifetime as a man with a Bachelor’s degree. But that investment comes at a significant cost: That new AAUW study shows that women are making less money straight out of college, and they’re sinking a higher percentage of their income into college loan debt.” This shows that her concern is also with opportunity to earn rather than merely the pay gap itself. This demonstrates a greater structural understanding of the problem which helps to reinforce her points about a cross-political consensus later in the piece. Another relevant quotation is when the writer states: “The pay gap is bad, but the wealth gap is dire. Women aged 18 to 64 have only 36 percent the wealth—assets minus debts—that men their age do. And women’s individual efforts to close the pay gap can exacerbate it.” This highlights that collective action is required to really address the issue, rather than small concessions here and there. It also emphasises the need for women to act properly together, rather than as individuals in an increasingly atomised economy, where meaningful collective action has become more difficult in recent years.

Moretti and Ichino, in their paper ‘Biological Gender Differences, Absenteeism, and the Earnings Gap’ , indicated that the menstrual cycle might actually play a part in increased worker absenteeism and therefore play a part in how employers paid women. They also seem to imply that the answer to inequalities in pay may well be matter for government and redistributive taxation to fix, but acknowledge that the political will is necessary for this to occur. In this, they reflect Hess’s view that a mixture of approaches is necessary to solve the issue.  They state, “It is, in theory, possible to alleviate the cost of menstrual-related absenteeism using a gender-specific wage subsidy financed out of general taxation. A wage subsidy that favors female workers would shift part of the costs of menstrual-related absenteeism from women to men. The estimates presented in this paper could, in principle, be used to quantify the magnitude of such a subsidy. Because this is not a case of market failure, the rationale for the subsidy would be redistribution rather than efficiency. Whether society should address this biological difference with a gender-based wage subsidy depends on voters’ tastes for redistribution.”

Certainly, Hess seems to be sceptical of the idea that job segregation now plays a significant part in the in the unequal pay structures of men and women in the USA. She states: “When the state of Minnesota audited its own public sector payroll, it found that male-dominated positions were paid more even when accounting for the demands of the work, the expertise required, and the conditions on the job.” Her view seems to be borne out by other research. Paul E. Gabriel and Susanne Schmitz in their paper ‘Gender differences in occupational distributions among workers’ state: “U.S. women in their thirties and forties do not appear to encounter significant levels of involuntary segregation across broad occupational categories. Although gender differences in occupational attainment persist, they apparently result from voluntary choices of men and women and from long-term changes in labor markets, such as the simultaneous growth of white-collar occupations and women’s labor force participation rates.”

The writer also touches on the issue that campaigning by women on behalf of women is sometimes problematic in a male-dominated society. Residual attitudes towards traditional gender roles often mean that women who do protest are viewed as troublemakers, while those who do not are perceived as apathetic. This is shown when she states, “Women are faulted for not advocating for themselves more, but they’re still docked for seeming overaggressive or under-nurturing.” She also highlights that legislation alone has not fixed the problem, and there are many variables and mysteries about why women still suffer such obvious discrimination when it comes to unequal remuneration in the workplace. She states, “While overt discrimination at work has dropped in the past few decades, the “unexplained” wage gap has risen, perhaps predictably—cutting back on announcing sweeping prejudices against women does not mean we don’t still have them. And these unexplained factors become more intense as women advance in the workplace, rising from 5 to 12 percent within a decade of college graduation.”

When it comes to any apparent bias in the article, it is worthwhile to note that the author is a woman herself. While this is not in itself a slur on the objectivity of the writer, it does perhaps add a touch of bias to the piece. Of course, one could also argue that a male writer might also be prone to displaying a similar gender bias on the issue were they to write it about it. As no completely neutral and objective stance can ever be taken by any writer on the grounds of their gender, it is wise to note this aspect of the piece merely as a side issue to be born in mind occasionally.

Hess does go out of her way to stress that she has little or no political bias on the issue, at least when it comes to conventional party politics and the divide between Republican and Democrat. Her account of the way in which questions on the topic of gender differences in pay were handled by President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney is fairly scathing. She says: “President Obama pointed to enforcing equal pay for equal work, improving health care, and doling out college grants. Mitt Romney spoke to promoting women in the workplace and in politics and providing more flexible work schedules.  But as we all rushed to take sides and create memes, the actual sources and state of the persistent pay gap Fenton mentioned went unexamined.” This quote displays a certain cynicism about the way politics is conducted in the USA. She implies that both candidates said things that their supporters would want to hear without actually getting stuck into the meat of the issue.

There is also a clear attempt to steer way from an ideological as well as more specifically political bias too. Hess states that in order to approach the issue with greater strategic clarity, both government intervention and individual action. She consciously seeks a cross ideological  as well as cross party strategy when she says: “Eliminating the pay gap is not just a matter of paying women more. It will require an effort from all sides, and the government can only do so much. A 2007 report from the AAUW recommended that the pay gap be bridged by the combined effort of individual workers, leaders in the private and public sector, and governmental policies—a  combined Obama-Romney approach.”

This attitude does not lessen the seriousness of her call for action on the issue, nor her apparent commitment to seeing things improved for women in the workplace. Rather, it adds weight and gravity to her arguments. By stating her case in this way, the writer takes her analysis beyond political point scoring and demands genuine engagement from both readers and those directly involved in the issue.

Overall, Hess offers a clear and balanced view of the issue while acknowledging that a problem does exist. She stops short of offering clear solutions though, preferring instead to highlight how both ‘left’ and ‘right’ political approaches are needed to help resolve the issue. Her analysis seems unbiased on grounds of either her gender or any possible political viewpoint.

Works Cited

Paul E. Gabriel and Susanne Schmitz, ‘Gender differences in occupational distributions among workers’, Monthly Labor Review’ June 2007 http://www.calstatela.edu/library/guides/3mla.pdf,  p.5

Amanda Hess, ‘Why Is It So Hard to Fix the Wage Gap?’ Slate blogpost, October 24 2012

Andrea Ichino and Enrico Moretti, ‘Biological Gender Differences, Absenteeism, and the Earnings Gap’ ‘American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2009’, p. 186

Shelly Lundberg and Robert A. Pollak, ‘The American Family and Family Economics’, ‘The Journal of Economic Perspectives’, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring, 2007), p 4.

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