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Gender Inequality in the Labor Force


The evidence available shows that there are and have been differences between male and female employees in terms of payment, promotion, placement, and other aspects at the workplace in virtually economies world over Pettit and Hook (167). However, it is important to note cases of gender inequality have been declining thanks to campaigns by pro-women groups and increasing literacy levels among women. At the workplace, gender inequality has often favored men over women and in most cases, surprisingly these differences occur between persons with similar qualifications. Available statistics on gender inequality at the workplace show that the problem is persistent and will not be eliminated soon. For instance, while 90% of all adult men are employed, only 75% of women are in employment. In addition, women who hold job positions receive unfair treatment at work compared to male employees. There are differences in pay for similar job roles, in qualifications, promotions, and job appraisals.

Gender discrimination in the labor force varies across demographic groups. For example, The National Committee on Pay Equity reports that while women still earn three-quarters of what men do; African American women earn 67.5 % of what men earn, Latinas’ receive 57.7%, while Asian Americans receive 90 %,( National Committee on Pay Equity, para. 1, 2). It is not fair to pay women lower wages than men as both genders have the same ability and perform similar work under the same conditions. This trend continues despite the same statistics indicating that 40% of women were the principal breadwinners for their families in 2009 (NCPE, para. 3, 4).


The aim of this article is to assess the assertion that gender inequality exists in the labor force as well as whether it is a social problem. The paper will draw on figures and reports compiled by international organizations like ILO and national institutions to fully ascertain the true nature of gender treatment at the workplace its effects on individuals. Due to the importance of gender equality to economic development, the paper will give strategies for reversing trends of gender inequality at the workplace.

A Global Phenomenon

The World Bank (2001) reports that gender inequality in the labor force is prevalent all over the world, however, the rates vary from country to country. Indeed, in 2009, the International Labor Office (ILO) reports that if not acted upon immediately, gender inequality could create nearly 22 million unemployed women by the end of the year (ILO). This anticipation is based on the premise that many women in various countries are usually left out in a typical recruitment process in favor of men who could be less qualified than women applicants. In 2009, the annual Global Employment Trends for Women report showed that out of the global workforce of 3 billion people, 1.2 billion were women, representing only 40.4% while global unemployment rates for women stood at 7.4% compared to 7.0 percent for men. The table below shows global adult employment proportions for each gender during 1998 and 2008.

Figure 1: Global adult employment-to-population proportions in 1998 and 2008

Gender Developed countries and EU Central and South-Eastern Europe East Asia southeast Asia and Pacific South Asia Middle East N. Africa Sub Saharan Africa
98 Women 48.3 49.0 70.0 59.9 36.7 20.5 22.6 60.8
Men 50.4 51.0 69.3 58.7 37.6 24.7 27.0 62.9
08 Women 69.8 68.7 84.4 88.6 89.1 82.2 81.0 86.2
Men 69.7 70.5 82.5 87.6 86.2 81.7 81.7 85.4

The report shows that even though unemployment rates have fallen over the ten years between 1998 and 2008, gender inequality in the labor force remains constant over the eight world geographical regions assessed. However, by 2008 the United States of America had made significant progress in reducing gender inequality in the labor market. It is obvious that despite positive developments made in some regions, far fewer women take part in the labor market as compared to men. For instance, Nelson and Bridges argue that in other United States gender-based inequality is closely related to the character of gender relations (4). These authors assert that women are more likely to stay at home and look after the children and follow their partners when they pursue their career opportunities than vice versa. These moves they argue tend to have a destructive effect on women‘s careers as well as wage-earning prospects.

In some developing economies, women are not allowed to do certain jobs however if societal norms allowed them they would willingly take up those jobs (Cotter et al, pp. 35). This does not imply that these women stay at home doing nothing; a majority of them perform household chores and unpaid family-care tasks. Such roles do not count as employment. While it may not be right to say that all women want to be employed, it is positive to say that women would want the same independence as men in choosing whether they should compete for employment opportunities.

Social Effects of Gender Inequality in the Labor Market

Women’s weak participation in the labor market, lesser control over material goods and resources, and participation in job opportunities that offer lower pay make them vulnerable to any form of economic crisis (ILO, para. 9). For instance, during times of economic recession or depression women are bound to suffer more than another social group because of the inability to purchase owing to their joblessness. Women may try to cope with the lack of jobs with better pay by working longer hours or taking up numerous job opportunities with lower pay. This makes it hard for them to tend to other social responsibilities such as family care and performance of household chores (Chen, Pp. 12).

Majority of women who take up jobs have to balance between employment and family responsibilities, besides, employers may terminate the services of a female employee when it is discovered that they are pregnant, men are rarely faced with such situations (Gluck, para. 6). Since approximately over 40% of women are the principal breadwinners for their families, gender inequality at the workplace shakes the basic structure of the society, that is, the family.

Finding a Solution to Gender Inequality

Gender inequality in the labor force can be averted by enacting legislation that requires employers to recruit a certain percentage of female workers in their workforce. Punitive measures should be meted upon firms that fail to implement this legislation. Such a measure will ensure that more women get employment opportunities.

Even though there is no single explanation that can account for gender inequality in employment in America, it is important to note that political foundations lie beneath gender inequality in the labor force Pettit and Hook (167).Also it is noteworthy that inequality between women and men in the labor ;force is founded in societal ideas of gender and family duties, and it is institutionalized through social policies and employment circumstances that control and support gender differences in home production and market work Pettit and Hook (167). Therefore, remedy to gender inequality in employment and wage largely lies in the making and implementation of non discriminative social policies as well as embracing new conceptions of gender and family obligations so that we can appreciate employability of all irrespective of their gender.

Works Cited

Chen, Derek. Gender Equality and Economic Development. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3285.

Cotter, David A., Hermsen, Joan M., Vanneman, Reeve. Gender Inequality at Work. 2004. Web.

Gluck, Samantha. The Effects of Gender Discrimination in the Workplace. 2011. Web.

International Labor Office. Global Employment Trends for Women, 2009. Geneva: ILO Press, 2009.

International Labor Office. Global Employment Trends. Geneva: ILO Press, 2010.

International Labor Office. ILO warns economic crisis could generate up to 22 million more unemployed women in 2009, jeopardize equality gains at work and at home. Web.

NCPE (National Committee on Pay Equity). Wage Gap Remains Static. 2010. Web.

Nelson, Robert L. and Bridges, William P. Legalizing gender inequality: courts, markets, and unequal pay for women in America. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Pettit, Becky and Hook, Jennifer Lynn. Gendered tradeoffs: family, social policy, and economic inequality in twenty-one countries. New York NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009.

World Bank. Engendering Development. Washington, D.C, 2001.

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