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
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)
- By the turn of the twentieth century, 1 woman in 5 was working outside the home. Few looked at their jobs as careers, they were considered a temporary arrangement until the women
married and "settled down". The jobs they held were frequently low-paying, low-skilled jobs.
- 1929-1930's, the Great Depression hit. Many men were seeking work so it was a difficult time for working women. Women's employment was perceived by many as a threat by those
who felt she was taking a job that a man may need.
- By 1940, nearly half of single women and women ages 20 to 24 were in the work force.
- 1939 to 1945, World War II fostered an economic boom. This brought married women into the work force. In some cases childcare was made available making it easier for mothers to
- In 1940, just prior to the American involvement in the war, 28 percent of American women worked.
- In 1944, 36 percent of American women worked.
- After the war, the post-war economy found it could support working women, and educated, middle-class, married women began entering the labor force.
- In 1946, the year after the war ended, 31 percent of women were in the labor force.
- The 1960's to 1975 was the next period of increased participation for women in the labor force. The rate reached 46 percent.
- In 1987 the rate hit 56 percent. The rate slowed through the 1990's, and in 1998, 59l8 percent of women were in the labor force.
- In August 1999, 64.9 million women 16 years of age and older were in the labor force. This number made up 60 percent of the total female civilian population 16 years and older.
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
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.
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Government barriers. These include a lack of adequate consistent monitoring and law enforcement and inadequate reporting and dissemination of information about the glass
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:
- Demonstrate commitment to change from the highest level (CEOs).
- Include diversity in strategic business plans.
- Use affirmative action as a tool.
- Select, promote, and train qualified workers.
- Prepare minorities and women for senior positions in the corporate ranks.
- Initiate family-friendly policies.
- At the same time, government should lead by example and make equal opportunity a reality, strengthen enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, improve data collection, and increase
disclosure of diversity data.
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,
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:
- A video: A Kiplinger, "Guide Money Smart Women"
- A book: "Material World A Global Family Portrait" by Peter Menzel
- Begun, A. (2000). Women's Changing Role. Michigan: Gale Group.
- Burn, S. (2000). Women Across Cultures A Global Perspective. California: Mayfield Publishing Company.
- Costello, C., Miles, S., Stone, A. (1998). The American Woman 1999-2000. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
- Healy, P. (2000). Supreme Court Orders Review of Ruling in 6 Bias Lawsuits Retrieved October 30, 2000 from Responsive Database Services, Inc.
- Solomon, C. (2000). Cracks in the Glass Ceiling Retrieved October 30, 2000 from Responsive Database Services, Inc.
- U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau. (1993). Facts on Working Women. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1996). Declaration on the Right to Development. Geneva, Switzerland: Office of the United Nations.
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