Home > Applying Political Science > Are Men Losing Ground to Women? Is This the Right Question to Ask?

Are Men Losing Ground to Women? Is This the Right Question to Ask?

During last night’s presidential debate, Katherine Fenton asked the candidates the following question: “In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”  While the media focused on Romney’s answer where he used the now infamous (and soon to be passé) phrase “binders full of women”, Fenton’s question speaks to a long running debate about the difference in equality of opportunity between men and women in the labor force, specifically the gap in pay equity. Just based on Fenton’s question, we might conclude that the inequality in pay equity is the most important concern for women in the workforce. But, Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men and the Rise of Women, released in early September 2012, tells a slightly different, and more nuanced story about what is happening to women in the American workforce.

Rosin’s book chronicles a relative ascendency of women and corresponding decline of men in the shifting labor market in the United States. For Rosin, “We live in a world that privileges nimbleness and flexibility, the willingness to adapt and bend to a fast-changing economic landscape, to be responsive to social cues” (Rosin 270). And, Rosin argues, women have been able to adjust more rapidly than men to this world.

Rosin book has touched off—or reignited—a heated debate over the relative status of women and men in American society. Stephanie Coontz, prefiguring Fenton’s question, challenged Rosin’s claims in a New York Times op-ed by asking, “How is it, then, that men still control the most important industries, especially technology, occupy most of the positions on the lists of the richest Americans, and continue to make more money than women who have similar skills and education? And why do women make up only 17 percent of Congress?”

But are the disparities Coontz and Fenton describe the ones that should demand our attention? By focusing on pay equity between men and women at the upper half of the income scale, do we avoid the broader trends Rosin sees taking place? By focusing on pay equity, do we ignore concerns about the distribution of political power in the United States? What I find missing in this debate is any substantive discussion about what it means to be equal as citizens—to share an equal stake in the public life of the republic. At base, arguments to equalize pay are arguments made for more equality between women and men—but only in economic terms. Equality can mean many things, and not all of them glamorous: equally weak, equally poor, or equally overburdened.

Rosin describes the attempt by women to secure, and retain, a kind of equal dignity amidst a changing economy—something ever so slightly different from equal pay. Rosin’s book effectively points out the way American women adapt by “taking over professions that allow them to be decent parents and that are likely to last in the new economy. They are acting with an eye to their own ambition and to the well-being of their children and mates, and their own sanity.” Rosin shows her readers that democratic political society may need forms of equality (other than pay equity at the top end of the income scale) so that citizens see their differences of income as subordinate to common purposes and conditions (such as capacity of all citizens of varying income levels to be decent parents). If we ask what policies and practices help citizens adjust to a rapidly changing economy equal pay may not be at the top of the list if that equal pay cannot pay for a life of civic dignity, a life where one’s contribution to public life matters.

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  1. Lexa Buerer
    October 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I agree with the fact that women are being treated unequally in the work force and it is something that is extremely evident in today’s day in age. Women have made great strides in the past 100 years especially since gaining the right to vote. For this reason women should be treated as equals in the work force instead of being discriminated against and given lower pay just for being women.

  2. L
    October 17, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    There has always been an inequality between women and men whether it is in the work force or in households since beginning of time. My views have to go with the fact that women are being treated unfairly and taken advantage of in the work force even today.We have come into the 21st century and still women are being payed less in the work force. Women have done just as much good for the nation as men have. Prejudice and sexism shouldn’t still even exist. We are one, we are equal therefore we should all be treated as the same even in the work force.

  3. Sam Stodolski
    October 18, 2012 at 6:34 am

    I guess my question would be what is the cause of the disparity between men and women? Is it that women are just not hired for high ranking positions or political leadership because they are women? Is it because there are fewer women than men seeking these positions? Is the situation one that would merit forced equality in the form of legislation?
    I guess the problem I have with this is one that stems from the notion of “forced” equality. I have a family member that works in human resources for a public company and due to “equal opportunity” and the things that come of that, she is not allowed to hire based on merit, but required to hire on the basis of gender and race. She is literally given weekly quotas to fill. Is this a solution to inequality? Is meritocracy considered discriminatory by today’s societal standards?

  4. Chris Runnels
    October 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

    The fact that this is still an issue really is pathetic. Personally, I don’t care if it is a man or a woman in charge, as long as they know what they are doing. That is all that should matter. This is pretty much the same problem as affirmative action, where people are taking race and gender into consideration before ability and competence. If the world ends up being controlled by women, fine. Whatever. Let’s be honest, they would probably do a better job anyway.

  5. john yonke
    October 18, 2012 at 9:31 am

    I think that equal pay must be addressed first and foremost. It is ridiculous that many men holding the same positions (or even lower positions) as women are earning higher wages. The argument for equal wages cannot end until it is actually satisfied. If women really are more able to adapt to the changing economic world (I don’t see why this would necessarily be true, but then again I haven’t read Rosin’s book), then perhaps they will gain a different level of equality, one of dignity instead of pay, and they will deserve whatever advantage they may eventually gain over men.

  6. Jordyn Doyle
    October 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Well, I believe in merit. So if women or men are doing less, equal, or more work, then they should be paid accordingly. I don’t believe special treatment should be given for any injustices in the past. The past is the past, let it go. Women deserve equality to men in the work force that are of the same status, is my stance.

  7. Jesus Hernandez
    October 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Balancing pay between men and women isn’t as easy as it may seem. Given the lower incomes received by women, policies similar to affirmative action would have to be taken. Even that is a controversial policy in regards to created inequality.

  8. sherie salomonsson
    October 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I think that women have fought for the right for equality in the work force, just as we fought for suffrage. Its completely ridiculous that men are still being paid more for the same jobs or that they hold higher positions and have more representatives in Congress. It shouldn’t matter what gender you are, pay should be based on your abilities and skill level.

  9. October 23, 2012 at 4:31 am

    I agree with both Chris and John’s comments. There are two issues here, john’s equal pay and equality in general and than Chris’s comment on it doesn’t matter what gender is working but what kind of performance they give. So bottom line is companies hire whoever is more adequate and preforms better; man or woman, whatever and then on top of that pay those roles equally. If you have a man and a woman who have the same position and job performance they should have equal pay, however this does not include factors of how long each member has worked for the company etc. it is just taking into account the equality of equal work. So not trying to go back on that but companies should not have to meet any sort of statistics to provide diversity between male and female, race etc. Companies should have the freedom to choose the best workers, no one should get an up on anyone else due to thier gender or race. Even though comapnies claim they are non-discrimatory, why do they want you to fill out little boxes with gender and race? For example, the CIA is more likely to hire woman on than men in current time due to the ‘unequal’ amount of thier current male to female ratio. Just saying it’s a free market companies should be able to hire who does the best job, all gender/race specifics aside without getting judged and getting claims on discrimination.

  10. Melissa Blakemore
    October 25, 2012 at 8:43 am

    I think that if an man and woman the same position the pay should be equal if they started at the same time. Like Jordyn stated above its merit. I do not think that a person should be paid different salaries because of what gender they are. Pay should be based on the quality of work and their experience in the field. I have had this discussion in another class before but we discussed the “glass ceiling” that some women were facing besides pay differences.

  11. Monique
    October 30, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I feel that the fact that this is still remaining an issue in society is ridiculous. In certain cases it may be necessary that people fight for equal pay, but to look at as an overall problem is useless. What can we do about the way society is now? What would be the solution? Like Rosin adresses, she sees change with the workforce. That women are adapting better then men. The world is constantly changing and we have to just accept how it is. If Rosin’s predictions are right then what are we going to do then? Are women going to be too high in power and men will have it unfair? I just feel that it is a constant battle that you cannot fix. In certain circumstances it may be necessary, but to look at it as a huge problem will get us no where.

  12. November 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I also feel that if both a man and a woman work at the exact same position then they should get equal pay. It doesn’t make sense if both get payed differently just based off of their gender. I agree with Melissa above that pay definitely be based off of quality of work, skill level and also the amount of experience in the field. We are living in the 21st century and frankly people should understand that we are a nation of equality and the fact that there is still an issue present in our society like this one then that is just plain pathetic.

  13. Donna
    December 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    A woman should have an equal right to a man regardless of gender in any situation, especially in the work field. The salary wages should be based on the hard work of the person not the stereotypical view on who’s more masculine. We live in a different time where women are beginning to step out of their comfort zones or “typical role” as a female and trying to advance in their society so for there to be an issue pressing like this that is not right.

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