Research from Cornell University that will appear in the August print issue of the American Sociological Review shows that gender segregation is deepest in blue collar jobs and that’s where much of the discrepancy in pay among men and women can be found.
In schools that emphasized work training versus college-prep courses such as advanced math, men were more likely than women to take the vocational classes, and thus, more likely to find higher-paying blue-collar jobs when they graduated, according to the study, which will appear in the August print issue of the American Sociological Review.
Women who do find such jobs earn 22 percent less than men, a gap wider than in white-collar or service-industry positions, according to the study. Gender gaps in employment and wages were widest among young men and women who attended high school in blue-collar communities.
“Blue-collar jobs are still as segregated as they were in the 1950s,” said April Sutton, one of the authors of the study. “Gender has not really been part of the discussion up to this point.”
The fortunes of women in towns where occupations in construction and production were concentrated are in stark contrast to the U.S. overall, where young women are more likely to be enrolled in college than men. Women in their mid-20s in cities with professional occupations made 98 percent of men’s wages, compared to 85 percent for women overall in the blue-collar towns, according to the study.
I’m old enough to remember the comparable worth discussions in the 1980s. My ex-wife used to talk about “pink collar” workers who were exploited. That discussion went nowhere, but the problem continues. Construction workers tend to be male and get paid higher wages then waitresses, who tend to be female. When you add the number of single mothers into the equation, this is a recipe for poverty for women.
There is much work to be done. Blue collar workers as a group have been hammered during the Great Economic Inequality the last 35 years, but within that downwardly mobile group, many women are even further behind.
Class, gender, and race/ethnicity interact in complex ways. Those exploited in one way may exploit others in another way. We like simplicity, but life is complex.
This is a problem that should not be ignored. Raising the minimum wage to $15 will help many of these women, giving them a raise for the first time in a long time. But job segregation must be broken also.