A Look at Women and Economics

First the Facts

On December 4, 1986 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution that was titled "Declaration on the Right to Development". The purpose of that declaration was to promote human rights in development. A portion of that declaration states,

"Bearing in mind the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations relating to the achievement of international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian nature, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, Recognizing that development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom, Considering that under the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration can be fully realized..." (United Nations, 1996).

In looking closely at the facts about today's women, it is clear that although women have made progress in the development process the aim of the Declaration of Development has not yet been obtained for women in the economic realm. The facts speak for themselves, women today are still being deprived of the human rights and fundamental freedoms in the economic realm that the Declaration declared were for all without distinction as to sex. To get a clear picture of women's role in the economic realm it is necessary to look first at women in the labor force and second to look at the distribution of benefits resulting from economic development.

Women in the Labor Force - A Global Perspective

According to S. Burn in her book titled "Women Across Cultures a Global Perspective", from a global perspective, women are not doing all that well economically. In her book she states "As the poorest of the poor, women in developing countries work extremely hard for the basic survival of their families...Women, and colonies, are often low-wage or non-wage producers who are structurally subordinate and dependent and overwhelmingly poor" (Burn, 2000, p, 136). Burns also states that, "Development programs have largely continued women's segregation in labor that generates the lowest wages and prestige (Burn, 2000, p. 138). In an article entitled, "Women, Work, and Wages" the author says, "Even in our booming economy, women overall are still earning less than men. In 1999, full-time women wage and salary workers earned 76.5% of men's median weekly earnings. In other words, they earned 23.5% less than men" (Garzia, 2000, p.7). Garzia goes on to reveal that no matter how it has been measured, women's earnings continue to be below those received by men. A report issued by the department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (1999) shows that even in jobs traditionally held by women, men in those jobs receive higher wages. For example, female nurses earn only 94.4 percent of what male nurses earn and female elementary school teachers earn 88.8 percent of what male elementary school teachers earn (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1999).

In a report issued by the UN in 1995, women's economic contributions are undervalued to the tune of $11 trillion a year (Burn, 2000, p.12). Showing a clear distinction based on sex. In a book titled "Women's Changing Role", the author A. Begun gives us a European perspective. She states that "According to Women: Setting New Priorities, a 1996 study by the Whirlpool Foundation, women's participation in the European labor force has grown substantially during the past decade. The survey found that 59 percent of European working women (36% of women) provided at least half of their household's income, form a high of 72 percent among French women to a low of 41 percent among British women. Twenty-eight percent of European women were responsible for all their household income" (Begun, 2000, p. 23).

A Home Turf Perspective

From an American standpoint, Begun (2000) states,"Women and work have always been a part of the American culture. Since the first settlers, women have worked long and hard hours, primarily in their own homes and on their farms and ranches. In 1800, only 5 percent of White women worked outside the home. Over the next 50 years, that percentage doubled as White women moved into employment as tavern-keepers, storeowners, publishers, domestic servants, and seamstresses. Black women, of course, had labored in the fields and worked in the master's house as slaves for centuries, as well as tended their own small gardens. By the end of the American Civil War, 14 percent of both Black and White women were in the paid labor force" (Begun, 2000, p. 13).

A Look at the Changes in the 19th Century (Begun, 2000)

Working Women - It's a Hard Knock Life, A Look at Inequality in Wages, Jobs and Occupations

Hypothetically speaking, if you have a male and a female, both performing the same job at the same performance level, they should receive the same pay. Of course in reality what is fair is not always the way it is. In fact, in our society and around the world, when a woman enters the paid labor force she will have to face gender discrimination in the form of the gender pay gap. There are three probable explanations for the gender pay gap; segregation and concentration of women in lower paying jobs, out right wage discrimination, and the high percentage of women working part-time (Burn, 2000, p. 102).

Women, Segregation and Concentration in Lower-paying Female-Dominated Jobs

Burn states, "Job segregation means that women work in different jobs and occupations than men, almost always with lower status and pay and with little security and little possibility for savings, credit, or investment. Women generally work in such sectors as secretarial work, sales, and domestic services whereas men generally work in industry and transportation; women engage in teaching, care services, and subsistence agriculture whereas men are found in management, administration, and policy" (Burn, 2000, p.102).

In an article written by C. Solomon, she states, "While there is parity in the general workforce, and growing numbers of women in business schools and the professions, there are still organizations where obstacles exist. For example, while industries such as financials, transportation, publishing, and tobacco have women in more than 20 percent of corporate officer positions, industries such as computers and textiles have less than 5 percent. And, although women make up almost 50 percent of management ranks, they hold only 11 percent of corporate jobs with real clout". She goes on to state, "According to a recent Business Week article, skills needed for new economy jobs are those that women tend to have in abundance; problem solving and the ability to grasp and use information. Furthermore, according to the Women's Research & Education Institute in Washington, D.C., women currently between the ages of 25 and 35 have more education than men in the same age group" (Solomon, 2000, p. 86). This tells me that women could do the jobs, if only they were given a fair chance.

According to research, even when women are hired into a traditionally male job, they are still paid a lower salary. For example, a U.S. Department of Labor statistics from 1991 showed, "female computer programmers make 83 percent of what their male counterparts make, female financial managers make 67 percent of what their counterparts make, female salespeople make 58 percent of what males make, female elementary teachers make 89 percent of what male teachers make, and so on" (Burn, 2000, p.105).

The "Glass Ceiling"

According to Begun (2000), "More women and minorities are working in companies at a professional level than ever before; however, their progress has often been confined to the lower levels of management. This barrier was dubbed the "glass ceiling" by the Wall Street Journal's "Corporate Woman" column about a decade ago. The Department of Labor, in a Report on the Glass Ceiling Initiative (Washington, DC, 1991), defined the glass ceiling as "artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management level positions" (Begun, 2000, p.30)

As a result of the report, the Glass Ceiling Commission was established by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. They found three types of artificial barriers to the advancement of women and minorities in the private sector.

  1. Societal barriers that may be outside the direct control of business. These include what the commission calls the Supply Barrier, related to educational opportunity and attainment, and the difference Barrier, demonstrated in conscious and unconscious stereotyping, prejudice, and bias related to gender, race and ethnicity.

  2. Internal structure barriers that are within the direct control of business. Some of those mentioned include corporate climates that alienate and isolate women and minorities, lack of mentoring, management training, and opportunities for career development, and biased ratting and testing systems.

  3. Government barriers. These include a lack of adequate consistent monitoring and law enforcement and inadequate reporting and dissemination of information about the glass ceiling.

The commission also found that, "Corporate executives and women have very different perceptions of the glass ceiling and how much progress has been made. The majority of CEO's in the survey believed that the glass ceiling was no longer a problem for women, regardless of race. Without exception, they strongly expressed support for women's advancement to corporate senior management. Most thought that White and minority women had reached pay equity but recognized that the disparity between men's and women's pay had not been resolved" (Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital, Glass Ceiling Commission, Washington, DC, 1995).

The Glass Ceiling Commision also offered several recommendationsf for business and government in dealing with the inequities (A Solid Investment: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital, Glass Ceiling Commission, Washington, DC, 1995). Businesses should:

Solomon, in her article "Cracks in the Glass Ceiling" states, "For women to succeed, it's essential to crack through existing stereotypes and harmful corporate cultures, no matter how subtle and unintended...the culture realignment must be a continuing focal point of the organization if it wants to change" (Solomon, 2000, p. 87).

Gender Wage Discrimination

I have already noted that women working the same job as men tend to receive a lower salary. In some cultures, it is assumed that a woman can be paid less because her income is not the families' main source (Burn, 2000, p. 106). Many countries have laws against gender pay discrimination. The United States passed an Equal Pay Act in 1963. It says that women's pay should be equal to men's when their positions are equal (Burn, 2000, 106). Unfortunately, there are still some problems with the enforcement of these laws. Currently, according to P. Healy the Equal Pay Act has come under scrutiny by the Supreme Court, "As the result of six lawsuits by university employees, the sixth suit against the State University of New York at New Paltz is a gender-discrimination claim" (Healy, 2000, p.32). The laws are there, but enforcing them is a whole different ball game. Until they can be strictly enforced, wage discrimination will continue.

There is plenty of evidence that proves there is still inequality in jobs and occupations for women that denies, based on sex discrimination, the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women in the economic realm. Job segregation and the wage gap are directly related to women's concentration in lower paying occupations. According to Garzia, in 1999, 57.4% of all employed women worked in technical, sales, service, and administrative support or clerical jobs (Garzia, 2000, p.7). This information is reinforced by the findings of the U.S. Department of Labor (1999), Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their statistics show the top ten occupations of employed women as being: Secretaries, Manager and administrators, Cashiers, Sales supervisors and proprietors, Registered nurses, Sales workers (retail and personal services), Nursing aides/ orderlies/ and attendants, Elementary school teachers, Bookkeepers, and Waitresses (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1999).

Alternative Work Patterns

Burn states, "In industrial countries, between 65 and 90 percent of part-time workers are women. Overall, about 1 in 4 employed women are part-time workers, and women constitute about two-thirds of all part time workers" (Burn, 2000, p. 106). Whether women work part time because they can't find full time or because they have family responsibilities as well is significant mainly because, part-time workers are generally paid less.

Again, as Solomon stated, for women to succeed economically, things are going to have to change. According to Solomon, some firms are beginning to recognize women's talents and putting policies into place that emphasize accountability with flexibility. She states their goals are to, "Measure progress against such statistics as female headcount, turnover, gender gap, female promotions, percentage of flexible work arrangements, and women partners in leadership positions" (Solomon, 2000, p. 3).

Begun, in her book "Women's Changing Roles" states, changes in the traditional family have forced many businesses to offer alternatives to the traditional 40-hour workweek. One option is flextime, which permits employees to vary the hours they work, job sharing and part-time work are also listed as alternatives.

The evidence that discrimination against women can be clearly seen in the gender pay gap is pretty conclusive. Job segregation and the concentration of women in low paying jobs seem to be the main issues in gender pay gap. Out right wage discrimination continues because it is difficult to enforce and the number of women working part time is not likely to decrease anytime in the near future. If the pay gap is to decrease and bring male and female salaries closer to equal, then our culture is going to have to change and deal with the root issues. If jobs are going to continue to be segregated, then they need to be recognized as equally important. Wage discrimination laws will have to be strictly enforced; and, whether women work part time or full time their work will need to be valued at what it's worth.

Distribution of Benefits Resulting from Economic Development

All over the world, women are suffering because there is unfair distribution of benefits resulting from economic development. Let's start with a few facts about the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2000), of the 108 million women age 16 and over in the United States in 1999, 65 million were in the labor force working or looking for work. Women's share of the labor force reached 46 percent in 1994 and has remained at that level (U.S. Department of Labor, 2000). A few more facts, there are 12 million families maintained by women in the United States. Families maintained by women have the lowest median income of all family types. And, the total number of families maintained by women below the poverty level has increased from 3 million in 1980 (before the Declaration of Development), to 4.2 million in 1999 (after the Declaration of Development). Now lets introduce some facts from around the world. A report issued by the United Nations states, "Poverty has a woman's face. Of the 1.3 billion people in poverty, 70 percent are women. Women fare worse than men in almost all economic matters...In virtually all countries, women work longer hours than men yet share less in the economic rewards (Burn, 2000, p.12).

All of the facts I have just stated lead to the same conclusion, even when the economy is booming, women are not receiving the benefits that have come from economic development. Clearly the evidence presented here proves that the Declaration of Development has yet to meet its goal of equality of human rights and fundamental freedoms for the female sex in the economic realm. The facts show that women make up almost half of the labor force, which clearly helps out economically, and yet they are often denied the benefits of their contributions. They are paid less for doing the same job as a man does, they are discriminated against in the form of job or occupation segregation, and they are clearly denied the benefits of a booming economy.

Outlook for the Future

In summary, in the book, "The American Woman: The Road Ahead", the author's give insight to the what lies ahead for the American woman, "The answers are as diverse as the women who will create that future. There will be no single image or model lifestyle that will capture the multiple and changing facets of women's lives. Women of different ages, races, and generations will define and shape their worlds to meet their needs" (Costello, Miles, Stone, 1998, p.197).

Additional Information that you may find interesting:

Works Cited

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