Gender Gap Narrowing? Not as expected.

Gender Gap Narrowing? Not As Expected

By Erik Berns, Amber Gainor, Shari Sorenson, and James Wagner

As a college graduate, do you expect to receive the same pay as your colleagues? The truth is that gender discrimination in the workplace continues to be a controversial issue. The following graph provided by the US Census shows how the discrepancy has continued. According to the most recent US Census, the proportion of women working has grown to 46.8% with women breaking into almost every job category, but the proportion within certain male dominated professions remains disproportionate at 9:1.

Dr. David Schaffer, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who has conducted research on gender inequality for over 20 years, explained the phenomenon known as the "Glass Ceiling Effect:"

"It is the idea that women who start out in the same jobs as men, even if they start out with the same salary their first year, ten to twenty years later the men are more likely to be promoted and get salary increases. The glass ceiling is the idea you can get the job and look up, see the top, and say 'I'm going to be one of those managers someday,' but for women you hit this solid block at some point," said Schaffer.

Talk about the "Glass Ceiling Effect" has been around for years, and the assumption is the situation is disappearing. However, data used by media showing how the gap has been disappearing tends to reflect only the top ten percent of the workforce in terms of income.

"The level of discrimination against women has gone down only a little, but the details have changed a lot," said Schaffer. Discrimination continues, but much more subtly.

The laws of 1970's erased blatant discrimination but didn't erase the unseen discrimination. According to Schaffer, female dominated positions (e.g. elementary education and nursing) are typically paid 15 to 20% less than male dominated positions with the same education and background.

Schaffer referred to this trend as "occupational segregation," which can be defined as assigning different titles/position names although the same work is being done. The differences between the two positions are difficult to measure and even more difficult to prove in court. Schaffer pointed out much of the discrimination taking place is "not a conscious choice, but it is significant." Two professions that commonly have occupational segregation are healthcare and law.

The United States does not have any distinct regions with more or less discrimination. The differences are more time related. The 1970's was a big time for change with many laws, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, which made an effort to reduce inequality. Much of this change leveled off in the 1980's and has only incrementally decreased since then.

Schaffer has conducted over 20 years of individual research on inequality on both race and gender. Growing up in Detroit with race riots, as well as observing poverty and homelessness, motivated him to improve the human condition even if in an indirect role as an economist. His statistics show that while the gap may be slightly narrowing, a lot of grey area still exists allowing for gender discrimination to occur. Recent college graduates will play a major role in eliminating these grey areas, which is the next step in eliminating gender wage discrimination altogether.


Erik Berns Amber Gainor Shari Sorenson James Wagner

From left to right: Erik Berns is a junior management major from Green Bay, WI; Amber Gainor is a junior marketing major from Burnsville, MN; Shari Sorenson is a senior management major from Mondovi, WI; and James Wagner is a senior finance major from Apple Valley, MN. They wrote this article for their BCOM Advanced Writing class.

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