Making the most of women

Women are "working fewer hours, in lower-paid industries and in lower-status jobs" than men, writes Jessica Irvine. Despite decades of feminism, women are still doing most of the unpaid cooking, cleaning and caring for children. They are still struggling to break into senior, highly paid jobs. In the Australian Financial Review Alan Mitchell suggested a way of dealing with the problem … but it’s not a solution most feminists or egalitarians will like.

As Irvine observes, there are two arguments for increasing women’s participation in paid work. The first is an argument for social justice. Society relies on women to bear children and it’s not fair that doing so makes it more difficult for those who are qualified to compete for high paid, high status work. And it is certainly not fair that women without children still find it more difficult to get ahead at work.

The second argument is economic. "Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate closing the gap between male and female participation rates would boost Australia’s annual economic production by 13 per cent", writes Irvine. This would "help cool inflation pressure, meaning lower interest rates than otherwise."

A 2009 report by Tim Toohey, David Colosimo and Andrew Boak at Goldman Sachs JBWere argues that women are source of highly educated labour just waiting to be unlocked. As Andrew Norton notes notes, women with university qualifications are far less likely to work full-time than men even when they don’t have children.

But according to Toohey, Colosimo, and Boak, another problem is that women with higher degrees tend to focus on just two industries: health care and social assistance, and education and training. Australia could achieve a significant boost to output if women could be persuaded to look beyond these two fields. By moving into traditionally male dominated fields, women would not only help to address skill shortages but would also improve their productivity.

In the Australian Financial Review (paywalled), Alan Mitchell argues that one way to encourage highly educated women to take on senior, highly paid jobs and work more hours is to allow more unskilled workers to migrate to Australia.

Mitchell cites a US study that suggests unskilled immigration has led to an increase in the number of hours worked by highly skilled women. In ‘Cheap Maids and Nannies: How Low-Skilled Immigration Is Changing the Time Use of High-Skilled Women‘ Patricia Cortes and Jose Tessada write:

We find evidence that low-skilled immigration has increased hours worked by women with a professional degree or a PhD. The estimated magnitudes suggest that the low-skilled immigration flow of the 1990s increased between 20 and 30 minutes a week the average time of market work of women with a professional degree or a Ph.D. Consistently, we find a decrease in the time highly skilled women spend in household work and an increase in their reported expenditures on housekeeping services. We also find that the fraction of women in this group working more than 50 (and 60) hours a week increases with low-skilled immigration, and that the effect is particularly large for those with young children.

Mitchell agues that "an increase in the supply of unskilled migrants or foreign guest workers could increase the labour market opportunities for skilled women" in Australia by making nannies and cleaners cheaper and more easily available. That would help encourage more women to train for and move into highly paid jobs involving long hours of work.

Back in 2007 the Economist reported that: "On climbing frames in the smarter neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, white toddlers occasionally shout to each other in Spanish." They shout in Spanish because: "They learn their first words from Mexican nannies who are often working illegally, just like the maids who scrub Angelenos’ floors and the gardeners who cut their lawns."

Mitchell notes that domestic workers in the US "are highly flexible in meeting the demands of their employers." A 2006 study of domestic workers in New York City found that half were working overtime — often more than 50 to 60 hours a week — and many did not receive overtime pay. Some workers in the study were on visas that were tied to their employment. If they left their employer, they became undocumented.

It’s not surprising that migrant workers who are in the country illegally or on restrictive visas are affordable and highly flexible. Mitchell acknowledges that a "lower rate of illegal immigration in Australia might mean that unskilled migrants have less of an effect on the cost of domestic services." But he argues that the effect of increased legal immigration would be in the same direction.

From a purely economic perspective Mitchell’s solution looks attractive. Australia’s GDP increases, women have greater incentives to qualify for highly paid jobs and will end up earning more, and migrants from poor countries are able to increase their incomes and send money home. The only people who are worse off are the Australian domestic workers who see their wages and working conditions fall.

But as Irvine suggests, many feminists are less worried about GDP and productivity and more worried about the social injustice of male-female division of labour. Almost everyone in the rich world benefits from cheap labour in poorer countries. Children’s toys, clothing, footwear, household appliances and electronics are all made using cheap foreign labour. Added to that, an increasing number of services such as call centres are also being outsourced. But domestic labour makes the inequality of this relationship more visible and much more personal.

Nothing screams class so loudly as the distinction between those who hire servants and those who are hired. For the aspirational classes, McMansions and flashy cars are a poor substitute for the true marker of affluence — staff. In his vision for an egalitarian class-free utopia, Edward Bellamy imagined the abolition of domestic service. When asked who does the housework, one of Bellamy’s character’s responds:

"There is none to do," said Mrs. Leete, to whom I had addressed this question. "Our washing is all done at public laundries at excessively cheap rates, and our cooking at public kitchens. The making and repairing of all we wear are done outside in public shops. Electricity, of course, takes the place of all fires and lighting. We choose houses no larger than we need, and furnish them so as to involve the minimum of trouble to keep them in order. We have no use for domestic servants."

Many egalitarians worry that relationships fostered by domestic service undermine our sense of equality. Servants — particularly those who face deportation if they’re sacked — are encouraged to be deferential and responsive. And this is what bothers many feminists about traditional male-female roles in the family. Women who are financially dependent on their husbands lack power in the relationship. Mitchell’s proposal sees women entering into unequal relationships with other women.

The economic and social justice arguments point in different directions. What many feminists want is for men to work less — not women to work more. They want highly educated men to spend less time earning money in the market and more time doing laundry, scrubbing bathrooms and caring for children. That won’t boost GDP or solve the problem of an ageing population, but that was never the point.

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Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

People earning the sort of wages that undocumented workers in the US earn couldn’t afford to live in Australia. The cost of living in the US is much lower.

Plus I think most people miss the point when it comes to what industries women work in: Women disproportionately work in the industries of child care, health care and education because that’s what a large percentage of women like doing.

Men and Women are different and always will be, despite what feminists would like to believe. The reason you don’t see a larger percentage of female drillers offsiders and stockbrokers is not to do with any imaginary burdens placed on them by men, any more than there is something sinister stopping men from opening beauty salons.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“But according to Toohey, Colosimo, and Boak, another problem is that women with higher degrees tend to focus on just two industries: health care and social assistance, and education and training”

At least in terms of university numbers, women now outnumber men in all major course areas excluding IT and engineering (and almost 60% of all graduates are female — a similar pattern exists in the US), and in courses that were once mixed you find almost no men anymore (e.g., biochemistry). In addition, whilst IT has gone backwards in the last decade or so, engineering is still going forwards (from a base of approximately zero in the eighties). I think if you wait a decade or two, this difference will resolve itself. I’m personally surprised people worry about women’s participation in university so much given this (worforce participation is obviously a different story). It seems to me that at present the biggest group to worry about are all the males that don’t go to university who really will cause social problems (and no doubt on most blogs would be writing about how useless most university education is whilst simultaneously being unemployed or having shitty jobs).

“Many egalitarians worry that relationships fostered by domestic service undermine our sense of equality”

Alternatively, it is allowing some people to earn vastly more than they would in their home countries, where you often find they then employ servants to look after their own children. Is this really worse than rich people not feeling a sense of equality with them? I don’t think so but most Australians obviously do.

Yobbo: “The reason you don’t see a larger percentage of female drillers offsiders and stockbrokers”

I don’t see why women arn’t becoming stockbrokers apart from cultural reasons (as a counter example, hairdressers are often straight males in some places of the world). Alternatively, I do so why they arn’t taking some jobs using heavy machinery that require heavy lifting etc., and I don’t think that is going to change soon.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

And Yobbo if you can demonstrate that it’s as easy for a qualified woman to get a job as a driller or stockbroker as it is for a qualified man to get a job as a nurse or a hairdresser, I don’t think anybody would argue with you.

On the point of whether allowing in more unskilled migrants is a good way to open up career opportunities for women by increasing the supply of nannies and cleaners – I’d say the egalitarian arguments against it only hold water if you can demonstrate that such jobs don’t offer social mobility – i.e., once you start in a nanny or cleaning job you’re likely to be stuck there and/or be unable to offer your own kids a chance at something better, which seems to me to be unlikely on the surface. Surely the big question is that if there were any significant effect, can we already observe it? The U.S. southern states (in particular) already do have a much larger supply of workers available and willing to take on this sort of work than Australia and many other parts of the developed world. But is there any evidence that there is actually less of a wage gap in those areas than elsewhere?

I’d certainly admit my personal perference is that shared childcare centres continue to be subsidised (because its value is poorly recognised directly by the market) than trying to lower the cost of child care with a bigger supply of affordable nannies, but having both is probably a good thing. As for other domestic chores (cleaning/cooking etc.), certainly my feeling is that this is largely a problem of excessive overtime demands (explicit or otherwise) – from my experience if both parents work ~38 hours a week and, importantly, share the load fairly, it’s very rare there’s any need for outside help with everyday housekeeping tasks.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

“Many egalitarians worry that relationships fostered by domestic service undermine our sense of equality.” Do we actually have one? Seriously. Also, is there a social justice argument for the un-division of labour? If there is then social justice is surely one of the stupidest causes around.

Surely somebody has been collecting data about the penetration of women into high-level jobs like stockbroking. My sister was a stockbroker, but in Japan where she could have a cheap nanny.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Actually one thing re shared childcare – it doesn’t seem to be very popular for kids under 12 months. I wonder what reasons there might be for that. And are there any studies on what impacts on childhood development there might be from using private nannies (working illegally or otherwise) vs shared childcare?

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

My wife actually made this point last week – viz: if we lived in the US and could employ an illegal nanny/housekeeper, she would work or perhaps contribute more time to charity.

It is absurd, though, that we can’t have the French system of treating nannies the same as childcare for tax reasons (and for OH&S, etc).

Finally, file this under ‘did he really say that and is he really a 16-year-old after all’:

Actually one thing re shared childcare – it doesn’t seem to be very popular for kids under 12 months. I wonder what reasons there might be for that.

!

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

If one has a child why would anyone need childcare in the first 12 months?

What was the point of having the kiddy?

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

If one has a child why would anyone need childcare in the first 12 months?

People don’t need to work Homer?

Or are you saying only welfare dependent families should have children?

FDB
FDB
10 years ago

Homer – I’m not sure if you’ve had kids, but from my experience (second-hand I’ll admit) babies require food, shelter, clothing and medical care, all of which are readily available, but usually for a ‘price’. The ‘money’ required to pay these ‘prices’ is typically ‘earned’ – in essence, a person needing ‘baby money’ will perform some task or other, which others value sufficiently to pay their own ‘price’.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I think Homer knows all this he is just in favour of selective breeding – by the well-off!

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Patrick, what sort of remark is that…would you just prefer I assume that my own reasons for having not wanted my son to be in shared childcare when he was under 12 months are the same as everybody else’s? If you must know, we did actually hire a nanny for one day just to see if it would work out, and decided against that too.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

FWIW I tried googling for some numbers and couldn’t really find any. I suppose the interesting number would be the ratio of children under 12 months in shared child-care vs under the care of private nannies, and whether that ratio was lower than for children between 12-24 months and 24-36 months.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Just read your comment wiz, really! Maybe you meant ‘…apart from the obvious’ but that doesn’t come across, pitfalls of the written word perhaps?

JC
JC
10 years ago

And Yobbo if you can demonstrate that it’s as easy for a qualified woman to get a job as a driller or stockbroker as it is for a qualified man to get a job as a nurse or a hairdresser, I don’t think anybody would argue with you.

Yes it is “easy”.
There was never any issue with women getting jobs on Wall Street. Sales and trading positions were always open to them. Interestingly gals always went for sales roles. There were very few female traders and they chose not to go that route.

I hired a lot of women and actually found them to be great at sales. In fact the best sales person I found was a woman.

There are no barriers.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Actually Patrick I expressly didn’t want to assume there were any ‘obvious’ reasons. I was just wondering if there were particular reasons that were unnecessarily discouraging mothers from returning to work sooner.

JC, I don’t know about the stockbroking world. But there a definitely professions with well-documented ‘invisible barriers’ – one of most telling cases was a lady who worked as an academic scientist (a field where one might like to think there were rather more enlightened views about female capabilities), who had a sex change then instantly found it far easier to get recognised/promoted etc.

Persse
Persse
10 years ago

Maybe the answer is to let the endocrinologists sort it out. Little hormone pumps to give everyone the same testosterone, estrogen and oxytocin levels, as a level playing field.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

lol I love the idea that one would assume that academics are more ‘enlightened’!!!

I would assume the opposite, since in my experience:
– the real world enlightens more than study;
– the academic world is often rather removed from the real world; and
– many of its denizens are there for that very reason!

JC
JC
10 years ago

……one of most telling cases was a lady who worked as an academic scientist (a field where one might like to think there were rather more enlightened views about female capabilities), who had a sex change then instantly found it far easier to get recognised/promoted etc.

Wiz

Let me get this right. Some gal scientist, who didn’t want to be a gal, had a sex change and found people to be more accepting possibly because s/she began to pee standing up and you’re using this story as some sort of evidence of a glass ceiling. Dude….Troppo is a serious blog.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

JC, pray tell, what would count for you as evidence? From memory, it wasn’t an isolated incident either – there were other similar cases where people reported significant variation in professional treatment depending on what sex they were perceived to be.

Patrick I did say “one might *like* to think”, on the basis that such people are well educated and specifically trained to abandon pre-conceived biases as part of their profession.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

wiz
I would suggest that academia is not the best place to judge whether gender discriminatory bias exists. It is in highly competitive profit maximising environments where ‘a dollar is a dollar’ that you would expect the glass ceiling to be less absent rather than academia. Thus i think JC’s experience in trading trumps your gender bender in academia example if we are to rely on the plurality of anecdote.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago
Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

There’s an easy explanation, wiz, presumably he doped on male hormones… sorry, couldn’t resist!

Personally I don’t think there is a barrier in the real world, indeed, I would go so far as to say that in professional services, I’d almost rather be female! That is not to say that there are differences, of course – I get more ‘cred’ talking about development and ‘coaching’ because I am a guy, a girl would get more ‘cred’ for being ‘technical’ and ‘hard-edged’…

JC
JC
10 years ago

After he underwent a sex change nine years ago at the age of 42, Barres recalled, another scientist who was unaware of it was heard to say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Wiz

How is that evidence? you don’t know if s/he is making it up. You don’t know if the other “scientist” was having a joke. You don’t know if indeed the other scientist thought s/he had a sibling and that this time around the work could have actually been better (it may well have been) than before.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

jtfsoon, sure – evidence of the existence of gender discrimination in academia isn’t all that useful in determining the extent of discrimination in other fields, but to claim ‘there is no barrier’ just on one’s limited personal experience is not particularly helpful. I could just as well claim that given I’ve worked with at least 100 different software developers in my time and only 1 of them was female then there’s obviously a massive barrier (though we can largely rule out the hypothesis that such a barrier exists in the minds of those making hiring decisions, given I’ve been involved in a few those in my time and never once seen a female applicant).

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

JC, if that particular anecdote was central to his argument I somehow doubt his submission to Nature about his experience would have got past the peer-review process.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I can fight fire with fire, or at least anecdote with story: My sister is a software developer and she disagrees. She thought that it was easier to get hired by MS, Google, Honeycomb, et al as a female.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Patrick, that’s believeable enough – “we need more women around here” is not an unfrequent comment heard among software developers! But I do wonder if a barrier exists in some women’s minds – they might be intrigued by the idea of developing computer software, but are put off by the overall culture/image of the profession, or by the way the software engineering is presented at university level etc. etc. Have you ever asked her why she thinks there’s so few female developers?

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

no but I will; answer to come when she wakes up..!

JC
JC
10 years ago

Have you ever asked her why she thinks there’s so few female developers?

Are you or anyone else suggesting there’s predominantly male door at IT schools in universities. Surely not.

How about this proposition, Wiz? Females don’t like IT when measured in big populations. Is that possible?

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

But I do wonder if a barrier exists in some women’s minds

Of course it does. The same barrier that stops them becoming diesel mechanics.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Wiz, earlier you suggested that childcare is not sufficiently valued by the market and so needs a subsidy. I think it costs around $300 per week here in Brisbane, per child, which is a reasonable chunk of the average weekly full time wage; so I think the subsidies are needed because of the expense, not any failure to sufficient value it.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

FDB and Jason,

I have had two kids.

some-one was at home looking after them in their first 12 months.

As I said if you are going to have kids what is the point of child care in the first 12 months.

One of the two parents simply doesn’t work in the first 12 months.

This isn’t too hard to figure out.

either you want kids or you do not.

if you simply want to work don’t have any.

JC
JC
10 years ago

Wht homer.

I’ve known lots of women that went back to work after 6 weeks or so and have a nurse type take care of the kid. Anecdotally they’re miserable and appear guilt ridden, but lots of women do it.

My mother is a prime example and look at me.. a perfectly well adjusted male.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

what is the point of having the kid then?

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

Fine Homer
So we’ve confirmed you don’t think the aspirising middle class shouldn’t have children, only the super wealthy, those prepared to make the financial sacrifice of losing one breadwinner for one year and the welfare dependent underclass. Wonderful

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Homer, that’s pretty mean, but I kinda sympathise with your point as well. I think it best if kids aren’t in long day care, especially from an early age. But putting your kids into child care doesn’t mean that you don’t love them or want them, only that you’re a career obsessed narcissist! Just joking!

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

you goose Soon the welfare dependant cannot afford child care. god to see you as accurate as ever!

The Aspiring middle class do not leave little kiddies at child care.

It is eastern suburbs latte sippers like you that do.

Actually you are too selfish to have kids even to dump them at child care

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

Homer stop crucifying the english language.

you goose Soon the welfare dependant cannot afford child care. god to see you as accurate as ever!

well, derr, my point is if everyone followed Fuhrer Paxton’s proscriptions, very few people would be left to have children, the welfare dependent would be among those who would continue to do so since childcare isn’t a consideration for them anyway

JC
JC
10 years ago

Pedro

He’s right to say that it would be better for a parent to be home with a kid and preferably the mother I think.

However it’s always absolutes with him, as he doesn’t believe that some people do make trade offs and depending on their life choices my not be able to exist on one salary.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

It is actually very easy to follow the example.

you simply make a sacrifice!

this is unheard of in the latte sipping rounds of oxford street where Jason prances around.

most couples I have knows have existed on less than $100K

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

It’s amazing that Tony Abbott the alleged ‘mad monk’ has accepted the compromises of modernity on this issue but not Homer ‘Iron Mark’ Paxton.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

I know JC, whenever my wife moans about having to work I tell her we could always sell the house and move to The Gap and live just on my income. It shuts her up for a bit. But I think Homer is just shit-stirring and doesn’t really mean it.

Jason, perhaps Homer married a skanke ho of his own and is getting income supplements from a taiwanese politican!

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

none of the day care centres around here had any kiddies that were below 2 when I was looking some time ago when the kids were very much younger.

We did it reasonably comfortably by making sacrifices. It simply means putting your baby first not yourself!

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Homer, they probably hid the little ones when you came by. Once they’re frightened its hard to calm them down. ;-)

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Pedro, I suppose what I meant is that if “the market” recognised the full value child care, it would be built into the salaries of those who had children that needing care for.

rog
rog
10 years ago

An invasion of Catallaxians has predictably lowered the bar to sub grade. Which is probably why women tend to avoid sharing their working hours with these bovver boy types.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Yobbo, sure, and if Australia has a shortage of diesel mechanics, then I’d suggest the industry would do well to look at what it could do to make itself more appealing to women. I’d say the same of the software development industry but last time I checked it was already shrinking in this country and not obviously due to any lack of prospective employees.

rog
rog
10 years ago

There has been a lot of study into the role of women on boards and why women are reluctant to take on executive positions. Generally it was found that boards that had women performed better. One reason given was that in the presence of women the men acted and behaved differently and this was beneficial. As to why women are under represented – no one really knows.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

Yobbo, sure, and if Australia has a shortage of diesel mechanics, then I’d suggest the industry would do well to look at what it could do to make itself more appealing to women. I’d say the same of the software development industry but last time I checked it was already shrinking in this country and not obviously due to any lack of prospective employees.

Wiz what I’m trying to say is that it’s not the “industry” that women don’t like. It’s the work itself. Being a diesel mechanic just doesn’t appeal to most women in the same way that being a nurse or a carer doesn’t appeal to most men.

Men and women like different things.