Monday, November 23, 2015

Gender Inequality: A Comparative View of the Challenges Ahead

The WAPPP Seminar this week was very special. Professor Mary C. Brinton, Department Chair of the Department of Sociology at Harvard and Professor Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics also at Harvard, introduced the new Weatherhead Initiative on Comparative Gender Inequality (WIGI) at the University to "study comparative gender inequality in OECD countries and outline some of the major scholarly and policy challenges relating to the structure of work and its articulation with the family". This is an exciting three-year interdisciplinary, cross-Harvard project, that will work closely with WAPPP at HKS, but whose creation is motivated by a set of very specific questions that are increasingly important for post-industrial economies:
  • Why are some industrialized countries moving rapidly towards gender equality while others are not?
  • Why are changes in gender roles producing more household disruption in some rich societies than in others?
  • How will US households share care duties for seniors?
  • How do changes in the welfare state differently affect the wellbeing of men and women?
  • How can public policy facilitate the dual earner/dual caregiver model?
  • How can employers level playing field for all genders?
  • What are the economic and productivity implications of not fully integrating high human capital women into the workforce?  
  Professor Claudia Goldin presents the Weatherhead Initiative on Gender Inequality

To answer these difficult questions, WIGI's first task is to build a community of students and scholars that are committed to studying these topics. There will be a strong focus on bringing in undergraduates, in fact, two of the first three events in Spring of 2016 will involve undergraduate seniors and juniors who will present their senior thesis research or will begin working on one. Graduate students are also welcome and expected to play a significant role.
WIGI will work on the intersections of different thematic areas each year. In the first year, the focus will be the intersection of labor markets and household decisions related to gender. The second year will address issues at the intersection of household decisions and public policy, and the third will feature activities involving labor markets and public policy.
  Professor Mary C. Brinton
Professor Brinton went further into detail about the topic of discussion for WIGI's first year. She started by showing the situation of workers in a place with which everybody in the audience was very familiar: Harvard University. Using the 2013 Faculty Climate Survey, she showed the number of hours per day that faculty allotted to work and to domestic and care duties, and found that although male and female faculty work the same amount of hours, the women at all levels of seniority engage in significantly more hours of housework than their male counterparts. This difference is much larger for Junior Faculty. On average, female tenured faculty members put in ten more hours of work in the home than male tenured faculty. Untenured female professors put in twenty more hours than male untenured professors. "This is very, very local," the Professor warned, "this is us".
Female faculty at Harvard spend 10-20 more hrs. 
on domestic work than male faculty
She also spoke about higher relative stress levels for female faculty, with some of the most common cited reasons being childcare and children's education. She explained that on the one hand, women have become increasingly educated, and their college graduation levels now surpass the men's in developed economies, but that on the other hand, not much has changed in the domestic arena, where women are expected to work more. This tension, she believes, is a driving force behind lower fertility rates and the aging populations in rich countries: "It's really, really hard to work full time and be mothers".
She then discussed the case of Japan, where she conducts a good amount of her research, and where this phenomenon is producing difficult consequences. Fertility rates in Japan have been under population replacement level, that is, under 2 children per woman, for over thirty years. The country is running out of a labor force, but the model has not yet become friendly to a dual earner-dual caregiver family model. Instead, many highly skilled women are pushed out of the labor force when they become mothers by a context that requires long working hours of both genders and does not provide incentives for males to take part in caregiving duties.
Professor Goldin continued this discussion by touching the topic of occupations, to see what makes some more friendly for the dual family model than others. She mentioned how sometimes the gender wage gap is explained by stating the fact that women tend to go into lower-paying, care-related occupations, and used data evidencing within-occupation pay gaps to show how that explanation is incomplete. For example, women in finance can earn up to 35% less than men in finance, while women in tech are earning 10% less than males in that sector.
But why is there a gap between occupations? She explained this by pointing out an important difference in the wage structures of each field. Using O*NET data from the Department of Labor, she showed that the gender gap is larger in occupations like finance, where there is a linear relationship between earnings and hours worked, than in tech, where people are remunerated more based on output. The latter structure favors women because, as was mentioned, they face higher demand for their time outside the workplace. In industries where there is temporal flexibility, women thrive (although it remains noteworthy that even in these fields there is still a gap, albeit smaller).
She suggested that a possible way to make any workplace more time-flexible would be to make employees more interchangeable. If in each workplace there are two workers who can easily substitute for each other at any point, they will have much more freedom to step in and out at times that work for them. This model can free men and women to take on more roles in the home. You can "fix the men", you can "fix the women", but until you actually "fix the firms and the occupations", modify the whole model, inequality will persist, she argued. 
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