Speaker connects gender, earnings

Ketul Patel

Women are lagging behind men in their lifetime earnings, the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research told about 60 people Wednesday night at the McCormick Tribune Center.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann discussed the gap in earnings between men and women and the need to redress that inequality.

In the Distinguished Public Policy Lecture for the Institute for Policy Research, Hartmann said she wants to resurrect the use of the earning gap as a good measure of the inequality between men and women, even as conservatives claim there is no real gap.

“I would like to think that (gender differences) are economically based,” Hartmann said.

Hartmann, a co-author of “Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Long-Term Earnings Gap” and professor of women’s studies and public policy at George Washington University, studied 15 years’ worth of data starting in 1983 about the total earnings of men and women.

She said the average total earnings of women surveyed, including those unemployed, was 38 percent of the average total earnings of men surveyed during that time period. She attributed the gap to the fact that more women work within the home.

Women do not earn as much as men over the long term because they must take care of children, Hartmann said. She said it is difficult for women to find “elite” jobs part-time.

In her study, Hartmann was only able to find four part-time elite jobs in the “female sector,” jobs where the majority of the workers are women. The elite jobs were in the areas of nursing, special education and computer science, she said.

“If we could get high-quality part-time jobs, there would not be as big a gap,” Hartmann said.

Women also lag behind men in earnings because it is harder to go back to a job after they leave it, she said. To bridge this gap, Hartmann said people must change their paradigm about caregiving policies.

“We need to eliminate the double standard in parenting,” she said. “There is a glorification of men bringing their children to work, but a penalty on women for doing this.”

During the question-and-answer session, Hartmann said women also need to be more assertive when asking for a raise.

“It is probably true that women negotiate less,” she said. “When studies have been done to teach women to be assertive and pushy, they have been perceived negatively.”

Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, a professor of human development and social policy and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, said Hartmann offered a unique perspective of the earnings gap between men and women.

“What is novel about the speech is taking a long-term look at the inequality,” Chase-Lansdale said. “To ask what happens over a lifetime is a huge contribution.”

Reach Ketul Patel at ketul-patel@northwestern.edu.

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