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Social Workers' Social StatusResearch Paper

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Gender Gap and Sex Segregation

Gender Gap & Sex Segregation

A disproportionate number of women are employed in the social service workforce, yet the median earnings of men in social service are higher in certain occupations in the field. Roughly 80.3% of social workers, 73.2% of social and human service assistants, and 69.3% of counselors are women ("BLS- 11," 2014). Yet, women have a share of roughly 50% of the overall labor force in the United States ("BLS- 11," 2014). The gender wage gap in social services appears to be slowly narrowing. Men who worked as counselors in 2005 earned 16.6% more than women working in the same field ("BLS-39," 2014). Eight years later, in 2011, the median weekly earnings of counselors were 13% more for men than for women in comparable positions ("BLS-39," 2014). The 2013 reports of median weekly earnings for counselors showed males earning only .5% more than their female counterparts ("BLS-39," 2014).

Figure 1. Mean Weekly Earnings in 2013 for Counselors, Social Workers, & Others

The same gender wage gap trend does not hold for social workers. Notably, there are proportionately fewer non-union counselors than there are non-union social workers (see Figure 1.) Male social workers earned more than 14% over females in similar positions in 2005 ("BLS-39," 2014). A puzzling increase in this gender gap appeared in 2013 -- 2014, when men reported earning 19.5% more than women in comparable positions. ("BLS-39," 2014) The reasons for this widening gender wage gap have not been clearly identified. It is important to note that the aggregate employment and wage figures do not indicate parity across organizations and employers ("BLS-39," 2014).

Gibelman (2003) argues that, "the problem of relatively low salaries for social work and other female-dominated professions is rooted in continued discrimination" (p.22). Many variables serve as drivers of the social conscience, which is reflected in the courts, in the legislatures, in the boardroom, in the union hall, and in the break room in workplaces across the nation. Gibelman (2003) charges that the changing social and political climate is mirrored in the comparable worth debate:

"Debates about the issue were consistent and loud during the 1960s and 1970s, but have been relatively unemotional and infrequent since then. Public attention to the matter can also be traced to different administrations. Under President Carter, enforcement regulations were proposed; their enactment would have mandated comparable worth for federal contractors. The Reagan administration saw these regulations as too controversial and took them off the agenda. Thus, gender-specific policy proposals have not fared as well as antidiscrimination policies that include gender and also apply to race and ethnicity" (p. 26-27).

Even when the political climate favors comparable worth legislation, implementation and enforcement have been insufficient to correct the problem in the United States. Equal pay legislation was introduced to the U.S. with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, amending the Fair Labor Standards Act. The following year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (P. L. 88-352) forbid all discrimination, with Title VII specifically forbidding discrimination in employment practices. By 1991, it was apparent that discrimination laws needed to be strengthened, and the Title VI, the Equal Pay Act (P. L. 102-166) was amended to prohibit discrimination in all programs or activities that receive federal funding. With the 1991 amendment, Title VII was also changed to increase the powers of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Title II, the Glass Ceiling Act (P. L. 102-166) addressed the underrepresentation of women and minorities in management and decision-making positions. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (P. L. 111 -- 2, S. 181) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 29, 2009, and served to reverse by the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. that stripped away protection against pay discrimination.

Historically, women were predominantly employed in education, domestic work -- as cooks, maids, housekeepers, nannies, laundresses, dressmakers -- and nursing. The business and industrial world underwent a slow evolution that opened the way for women began to find jobs outside of the home that were still considered to be women's work, but invariably paid low wages: waitresses, cashiers, typists, secretaries, and the ill-fated factory workers.

Proponents of human capital theory argue that the employment patterns of women related to family events and the presence and age of children are primary determinants of the gender wage gap and occupational sex segregation (Stier, et al., 2001). The conventional wisdom related to the phenomena is that employers regard intermittent employment as a contributor to skill atrophy and, thereby, reduced productivity. Moreover, employers perceive workers who interrupt their employment to care for children or family members as having less commitment to their work. Although both women and men engage in caregiving, these responsibilities more often fall to women -- often because in a dual-earner families, the wages earned by women are less which means the net impact on families for on interrupting women's employment is less. If this appears to be a tautological relationship, that is because it is. Much of the research on the consequences of women's interrupted employment over the lifecycle is conducted from a microeconomic perspective. While this provides insights into the labor market overall, "it generally ignores institutional and normative arrangements that structure women's work and that may mediate the effect of intermittent or part-time employment on market outcomes" (Stier, et al., 2001, p. 1732).

Stier, et al. (2001) analyzed the effect of interrupted work for women across a number of countries that provide different levels of policy support to women during childrearing and the like, and that implement various types of welfare regimes to provide support to parents, families, and children (see Table 1). The term welfare regime in this research was used to convey social-political contexts and structural arrangements that serve as the basis for Esping-Andersen's typology, according to which three models of welfare regimes are seen: the social-democratic welfare state, the liberal welfare state, and the conservative-corporatist welfare state (Esping-Andersen, 1990, as cited in Stier, et al., 2001). The welfare regime typology is as follows:

[The social-democratic welfare state] "…is characterized by a universalistic approach to social rights, a high level of decommodification, and an inclusion of the middle class in social programs. The liberal model, at the other extreme, provides only limited social insurance. Its social programs are directed mainly toward the working class and the poor, and means-tested assistance is prevalent. In the conservative-corporatist welfare regime, social principles prevail in most areas, based, however, not on egalitarian standards but rather on eligibility dependent upon social statuses (mainly family, class, and religion) and traditions" (Stier, et al., 2001, p. 1733).

The researchers expected high levels of employment continuity and a fast return to full employment in countries they described as social-democratic (Stier, et al., 2001). In addition, these countries were expected to institute lower earning penalties in response to workers shifting to part-time employment, but higher penalties when workers withdrew from the labor force (Stier, et al., 2001). In the countries that were termed conservative, the researchers expected higher levels of employment transition to part time or out of the workforce; in these conservative countries, the norm was for women to adjust their participation in the workforce in response to family demands (Stier, et al., 2001). As a result, penalties incurred from shifts to part-time work or interruptions in workforce participation were expected to be low (Stier, et al., 2001). Finally, the researchers expected that countries with the most liberal welfare regimes would institute the highest penalties for deviations from continuous full-time employment. (Stier, et al., 2001)

Table 1. Categorization of Countries by Welfare Regime and the Level of Support for Mothers' Employment

Analyzing different sectors for patterns of gender differences with regard to occupational choices and pay levels is certainly useful. But it is not sufficient as the drivers of gender patterns in employment stem primarily from sociological factors that cross the artificial boundaries of industrial sectors. An exploration of the workforce patterns in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is instructive as a case and illustrative of the sociological, educational, and psychological variables that shape workforce patterns.

Women are substantially underrepresented as earners of STEM university degrees and as holders of STEM jobs. This, as previously discussed, must be intentionally juxtaposed against the figures that show women as half of the workforce in the United States, as roughly more than half of those who are college-educated, yet holding less than 25% of STEM jobs in the country. Moreover, it is important to note that approximately 2.1% of college graduates who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks fell into the category of working poor, compared to 21.2% of those with less than a high school diploma ("BLS-47," 2014). The dilemma in STEM employment goes beyond gender inequalities to national imperatives that competitiveness in STEM industries is crucial to national economic well-being. Consider these two simple issues in light of the STEM gender gap: The underutilization of the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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