Fear Me, I Am Woman (Kind Of)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/07/2007 01:59:00 PM
Pairing different stories often highlights interesting regional and national differences, and the same holds true here. Both of these stories concern the economic progress of working women vis-a-vis their male counterparts (or, unfortunately, the lack thereof). Let's begin with the more enlightening one. The International Herald Tribune reports that women aged 21-30 earn more than than men of the same age in big US cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and Dallas after analyzing 2005 US census data. This contrasts to the wages of female workers being 89% of males' on a nationwide basis. Three main reasons:
  • There have been more female than male college graduates in the US for some time now;
  • Mobility in these urban centers raises rewards for achievement, attracting career women;
  • Women are marrying later to pursue their careers and are not moving along with a family
Young women in New York and several of the nation's other largest cities who work full time have forged ahead of men in wages, according to an analysis of recent census data.

The shift has occurred in New York since 2000 and even earlier in Los Angeles, Dallas and a few other cities.

Economists consider it striking because the wage gap between men and women nationally has narrowed more slowly and has even widened in recent years among one part of that group: college-educated women in their 20s. But in New York, young college-educated women's wages as a percentage of men's rose slightly between 2000 and 2005.

The analysis was prepared by Andrew Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, who first reported his findings in Gotham Gazette, published online by the Citizens Union Foundation. It shows that all women from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men's wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent.

Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men.

Just why young women at all educational levels in New York and other big cities have fared better than their peers elsewhere is a matter of some debate. But a major reason, experts say, is that women have been graduating from college in larger numbers than men, and that many of those women seem to be gravitating toward major urban areas.

In 2005, 53 percent of women in their 20s working in New York were college graduates, compared with only 38 percent of men of that age.

And many of those women are not marrying right after college, leaving them freer to focus on building careers, experts said.

"Citified college women are more likely to be nonmarried and childless, compared with their suburban sisters, so they can and do devote themselves to their careers," said Andrew Hacker, a Queens College sociologist and the author of "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Men and Women."

Kelly Kraft, 25, is one of those women. A native of Indiana, she came to New York after graduating from the University of Dayton, got a job in publishing and now works for an advertising agency. "I just felt New York had a lot more exciting opportunities in different industries than Indianapolis," she said.

"In women's studies courses you always heard that men were making more money, and it was a disadvantage being a woman," Kraft said. "It's great that it's starting to turn around."

New York may also be more attractive to college-educated women, some experts said, because many jobs in the city pay higher salaries than similar ones elsewhere in the country. "New York is an achievement-based city, and achievement here is based on how well you use your brain, not what you do with your back," said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

In 1970, all New York women in their 20s made $7,000 less than men, on average, adjusted for inflation. By 2000, they were about even. In 2005, according to an analysis of the latest census results, they were making about $5,000 more: a median wage of $35,653, or 117 percent of the $30,560 reported by men in that age group.

Women in their 20s also make more than men in Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and a few other big cities. But only in Dallas do young women's wages surpass men's by a larger amount than in New York. In Dallas, women make 120 percent of what men do, although their median wage there, $25,467, was much lower than that of women in New York.

Nationally, women in their 20s made a median income of $25,467, compared with $28,523 for men.

Diana Rhoten, a program director at the Social Science Research Council in New York, said well-educated women were migrating to urban centers where there are diverse professional opportunities and less gender discrimination than in smaller cities and suburbs. There may also be nonworkplace factors at play, she said.

"Previously, female migration patterns were determined primarily by their husband's educational levels or employment needs, even if both were college-educated," she said. "Today, highly qualified women are moving for their own professional opportunities and personal interests. It's no longer an era of power couple migration to, but one of power couple formation in, places like New York..."

Melissa Manfro, a 24-year-old lawyer who was raised in upstate New York, offered her own theory on why younger female lawyers are outearning their male peers: a desire to begin their careers earlier to prepare for starting families.

"It seems that women tend to take less time off between college and law school, and therefore become more senior, and, hence, make more money, at a younger age," she said. "I would, of course, like to think that means that women know what they want sooner than men. But it probably has more to do with the unfortunate fact that women need to keep in mind biological time constraints and feel a great deal of pressure to build an entire career before refocusing on marriage and children."

Though Beveridge's analysis showed women making strides, it also showed that men were in some ways moving backward. Among all men - including those with college degrees - real wages, adjusted for inflation, have declined since 1970. And among full-time workers with advanced degrees, wages for men increased only marginally even as they soared for women. Nationally, men's wages in general declined while women's remained the same...

Meanwhile, in Japan, it seems that traditional roles for women are still not being breached; the proverbial "glass ceiling" is firmly in place. Worse yet, women who decide to have children are greatly disadvantaged as Japan does not have as strong a record of enforcing gender equality laws. While female discrimination is not a new story in Japan, the interesting angle is that this kind of discrimination is slowly coming under more pressure due to demographic factors: Japan will have a hard time meeting labor demand if it continues to curtail the supply of working women by discriminating against their progress up the career ladder. Also from the IHT:

Yukako Kurose joined the work force in 1986, a year after Japan passed its first equal opportunity law. Like other career-minded young women, she hoped the law would open doors. But her promising career at a department-store corporate office ended 15 years ago when she had a baby.

She was passed over for promotions after she started leaving work before 6:30 each evening to pick up her daughter from day care. Then, she was pushed into a dead-end clerical job. Finally, she quit.

"Japanese work customs make it almost impossible for women to have both a family and a career," said Kurose, 45, who now works for a polyester company.

Since the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was passed in 1985, women have become a common sight on factory floors, at construction sites and behind the wheels of taxis. But they have had much less success reaching positions of authority, which remain the preserve of gray-suited salarymen.

In 1985, women held just 6.6 percent of all management jobs in Japanese companies and government, according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency. By 2005, that number had risen to only 10.1 percent, though Japan's 27 million working women made up nearly half of its work force. By contrast, women held 42.5 percent of managerial jobs in the United States in 2005, the organization said.

Experts on women's issues say outright prejudice is only part of Japan's problem. An even bigger barrier to the advancement of women is the nation's notoriously demanding corporate culture, particularly its expectation of morning-to-midnight work hours.

Government statistics show that many women drop out of management-track jobs when they reach their late 20s and early 30s and start having children. As Japan's birthrate rapidly declines and its population ages, there are growing concerns that Japan can ill afford to lose so much potential.

"If expected to work 15 hours a day, then most women will give up," said Kuniko Inoguchi, a former cabinet minister in charge of gender equality. "Japan is losing half of its brainpower as it faces a labor shortage."

Even with cases of blatant discrimination, lawsuits remain rare because of a cultural aversion to litigation. Another big problem has been that the equal opportunity law is essentially toothless. Despite two revisions, the law includes no real punishment for companies that continue to discriminate. The worst that the Labor Ministry can do is to threaten to publish the names of violators, and the ministry has never done that. As a result, Japan ranks as the most unequal of the world's rich countries, according to the United Nations Development Program's "gender empowerment measure," an index of female participation in a nation's economy and politics. The country placed 42nd among 75 nations surveyed in 2006 — just above Macedonia and far below other developed nations like the United States, ranked 12th, and top-ranked Norway.

"It's a pathetic situation," said Kumiko Morizane, deputy director of the equal employment division in Japan's Labor Ministry. "Even in Pakistan, where women cover their faces, they had a female prime minister."

But the painfully slow pace of change reflects ingrained social attitudes about gender roles.

Takako Ariishi, 36, experienced an extreme version of these roles when she grew up as the only child of the president of Daiya Seiki, a small manufacturer owned by her family that supplies gauges to Nissan...

Still, Ariishi took over as president three years ago after her father died. She says she is the only woman in a group of some 160 heads of Nissan suppliers. The first time she attended the group's twice-annual meetings, she says she was asked to wait in a room with secretaries.

"I still have to prove all the time that a woman can be president," says Ariishi, a trained engineer who wears a blue unisex factory worker's uniform in her office.

She says she goes home every evening at 7 to put her son to bed, but then returns to work. The burden of such long hours pushes most career-track women to quit before they reach management-level jobs. Midori Ito, president of the Action Center for Working Women, a national group that gives legal support to working women, said more than half of career-minded women quit by their early 30s, while others choose to remain single.

One of those is Miiko Tsuda, 38. She said that because she worked until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. every night at the office of a tutoring school operator, she has not had time to think about marriage.

And yet, Tsuda says she frequently feels discrimination. She says she earns 10 percent to 20 percent less than men her age. Younger male colleagues ask her and other women to push elevator buttons for them and serve tea. She also says just five women of the company's 300-some management employees are women, up from zero when she joined 17 years ago.

Still, women's rights advocates say that the realities of Japan's shrinking population are slowly forcing change. They say the need to find talented workers has pushed a small but growing number of companies to make more efforts to hire women as "sogo shoku," or career-track employees, in line for management. Some analysts estimate that about a quarter of career-track hires in recent years have been women.

Some companies are taking small steps to nurture more female managers. Since quitting the department store in 2002, Kurose has headed the diversity development section at Teijin, a polyester maker based in Osaka. She organizes classes to train women for management, sets hiring targets and helps mothers returning from maternity leave find new positions in the company.

Progress is slow: Only some 50 of Teijin's approximately 2,000 managers are women, but even that is an almost threefold increase from when Kurose joined the company, she said.

Now, women's rights advocates are starting to argue that Japan must make more such efforts — not just for the corporate good, but for survival.

They point to studies showing that nations with greater workplace participation, like the United States, actually have higher fertility rates. Advocates say this is because working women in other countries start having children earlier in life, while many who leave the work force do not do so until their 30s.

"Birthrates here are declining because of a lack of equality for women," said Inoguchi, the former minister. "The population shortage is forcing a change in attitudes."