Saturday, January 31, 2009

Will unemployment help reduce pay equality?

Mild speculation alert!

According to the latest statistics, due to men being laid off at higher rates women now make up almost 50% of the workforce. (Thanks to Girl w/ Pen.) Now, as the Gw/P post pointed out, this is not necessarily a good thing, either for women or society as a whole.

But I do think that something very interesting could happen here. While much of the reason for this gender-unequal decrease is due to an overall decrease in male-dominated sectors (construction, etc.), there are many, many jobs being lost in other areas. Now, we know that women are paid much less on average than men. Furthermore, this pay inequality is not only caused by a larger percentage of men having jobs in higher paying fields, rather, the inequality holds true in almost every field (PDF).

If an employer is forced to lay someone off out of several who hold similar jobs, who are they going to choose - the higher paid person or the lower? Given similar work output (which is reasonable, I believe), most employers should choose the higher paid worker, who is statistically more likely to be male. This, will lead to a decrease in the gendered pay gap, at least temporarily.

The real test will come when the economy improves, pay rises, and unemployment drops. Will the men who were let go for having higher salaries be hired back at similar salaries to the women who remained? Will women's salaries be raised? (increased relative seniority, etc.) In other words, whereas historically women have been entering, at a lower wage, into a male-dominated workforce, at some future point significant numbers of men might be entering into a (slightly) female-dominated workforce. I'm certain pay won't become equal overnight, but hopefully things will improve.

On the other hand, non-whites are being disproportionately affected by rising unemployment. I'm not sure what the causes are, but I imagine it's related to social inequalities. So, it comes down to: a (potential) step forward, and an (immediate) step back.

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)


finn said...

I have no facts and figures, but didn't the two world wars rise the percentage of women in the workforce? Because of all the men being at war, the women kept working their jobs. When they came back equal pay was not achieved.
Now, I do see the difference of the war situation to the current one. then ppl weren't laid off, they were simply not available. but in the end it's a very similar thing...

Brianna J said...

But the pay difference was improved - well, sort of. As it turns out, legislation limited the number of hours worked - women's wages rose, but their overall earnings stayed the same relative to men's earnings. Also, after the war, most of the additional women left the workforce, and that is not going to happen in this situation.