(WOMENSENEWS)–In 2009, Casey B. Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, wrote a column for the New York Times about the ailing economy headlined "What Explains the ‘Mancession’?"
By now the burning question is what explains the media’s fixation on the idea that men’s job-loss woes exceed those of women?
While more men may have lost their jobs in the recession, it’s because they had higher-paying jobs in the first place. Outsourcing and cuts in the manufacturing sector, especially well-paid union jobs, hit men hard.
More women may have survived, but it was because they were in much more poorly paid jobs in health care and service industries that are hard to send to Bangladesh. But these jobs often can’t support a family.
And while men may have lost more jobs in the recession, in the recovery now underway they are doing much better than women.
The latest Bureau of Labor statistics released in March showed that of the 1.3 million jobs created in the preceding 12 months, some 90 percent went to men. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs.
The Michigan Job Search Web site also notes that the situation has gotten worse rather than better for women during the recovery; in part because women hold many of the public-sector jobs being lost to deficit reductions. Since July 2009, men have gained 600,000 jobs while women have lost 300,000 jobs.
‘Recovery Not Happening for Women’
Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, told the Baltimore Sun, "The recovery is really not happening for women at all. It’s a slow recovery overall, but it’s really leaving women behind."
Despite all that, story after story during the past year has reported on men’s depression rates, dropout rates, inability to find new jobs and other woes.
All unquestionably real.
But the subtext to the story was that women were doing just fine. They were losing fewer jobs, apparently not getting depressed and rapidly making up the historic gender gap in wages.
It echoed that other parable favored by the media, about schoolgirls’ gains spelling the demise of American boys. Only this time it was about the grownups.
The height of this up-and-up story line about women came last month, on Equal Pay Day no less, when the United States is supposed to take note of stalled progress on closing a gender-pay gap that keeps women earning 77 cents to the male dollar, according to the latest government data.
On this of all days The Wall Street Journal editors saw fit to run a column by Carrie Lukas, executive director of the right-wing Independent Women’s Forum, throwing sand in the eye of anyone who had the nerve to still say women faced any pay-discrimination issues.
"There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap," asserted the April 12 headline. Lukas drew on a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 that found that women earned 8 percent more than men for her argument. That was a slim bit of evidence.
The study, reported by Reach Advisors, a marketing research firm, looked at an age group in which more women have college degrees than men. That’s why they earn more.
But if you compare young women and young men who have the same qualifications, you get very different results. The American Association of University Women did just that, as Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress notes. Its study found that for college-educated women, the gender gap emerges as soon as they graduate.
"Their research shows that a woman earns 5 percent less the first year out of school than a man who goes to the same college, gets the same grades, has the same major, takes the same kind of job with similar workplace flexibility perks and has the same personal characteristics, such as marital status, race and number of children," Boushey said.
The gap just keeps on growing–up to 10 percent by 10 years after graduation, the American Association of University Women reports.
Forty percent of white female heads of households are poor, and that figure rises to 60 percent for black women. The pain of income loss and even job security is magnified for women like this, living close to the bone.
There’s also fundamental pay-gap reality to keep in mind. Recession or no, when a woman has children, the difference between male and female wages turns into a chasm.
The study upon which Lukas based her case shows young, educated women doing well. Correct. But such gains go right down the sink if they choose to become mothers.
The Price of ‘Mommy Tax’
"The reduced earnings of mothers are, in effect, a heavy personal tax levied on people who care for children, or for any other dependent family members," reports Ann Crittenden in her 2001 book, "The Price of Motherhood." Crittenden calls it a "mommy tax" that easily penalizes a college-educated woman $1 million.
Lukas argues that we women deserve our lower pay because we choose less-demanding, less-competitive jobs.
But data on a growing gender gap in earnings among equally qualified male and female doctors challenges that idea.
Among new doctors in the United States, women earn nearly $17,000 less each year than male counterparts, even though women increasingly are choosing careers in higher-paying specialties, according to a study based on survey data from more than 8,000 doctors, reported a 2011 article in Health Affairs.
Meanwhile, the gender gap in starting salaries has been widening, rising from a difference of $3,600 in 1999 to $16,819 in 2008. While historically women have tended to choose relatively lower-paying primary care fields such as family medicine or pediatrics, this is no longer the case. The percentage of women entering those fields dropped from about 50 percent in 1999 to just over 30 percent in 2008, roughly on par with male doctors.
And, the gap exists after accounting for choice of specialty, practice type and working hours.
"What is surprising is that even when we account for specialty and hours and other factors, we see this growing unexplained gap in starting salary. The same gap exists for women in primary care as it does in specialty fields," said Anthony T. Lo Sasso, senior research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
What accounts for the persisting gender gap? It’s not possible to say, definitely. But it’s certainly too soon to declare the gender gap a thing of the past. Sorry to say.
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Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Rosalind C. Barnett is senior scientist at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis. They are authors of the forthcoming book "The Truth about Girls and Boys: Confronting Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children" (Columbia University Press.)