Both sociologists and economists have documented differential occupational outcomes for different genders. Women spend fewer hours in paid labor and average fewer hours relative to men (Reskin & Bielby, 2005). Importantly, women earn less than men who hold similar positions and are less likely to hold managerial positions. Men, unlike women, have higher chances of becoming managers (Reskin & Bielby, 2005). These trends show that gender inequality remains rampant, despite efforts to bridge gaps in women’s participation in the labor force. Recently, an activist on Twitter developed a bot to highlight gender pay gaps between men and women. The purpose of the bot was to release information on the pay gap between women and men. In this paper, the writer will summarize an article reporting the campaign and discuss the significance of the issue in the article from a sociological perspective.
Summary of the Article
In the article, “Twitter Bot Highlights Gender Pay Gap One Company at a Time,” Holpuch (2022) reports that Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome developed an automated bot that mines data from public databases about pay disparities between women and men and posts the information on Twitter. Specific hashtags or keywords such as #BreakTheBias and #IWD would trigger the bot to retweet the tweet and add a note about the median pay gap between men and women in a specific organization. The goal of the bot is to empower women by creating awareness about gender pay disparities. Since the British government mandates companies to post information about salaries differences between men and women, the bot is able to access public information and share it on Twitter. The account has gained around 205,000 followers since its creation (Holpuch, 2022).
Lawson, one of the developers of the bot, contends that the pay gap remains a major source of gender inequality (Holpuch, 2022). Estimates suggest as of April 2021, women working full-time received 7.8% less compared to men working full-time. However, there are differences from company to company. For example, English Heritage pays women 3.9% less than men. However, the issue of the gender pay gap is not limited to Britain. Statistics show that pay gaps exist in other developed countries such as Australia, Germany, and United States, with women from ethnic minorities more likely to receive even less than women from dominant racial and ethnic groups (Holpuch, 2022). These pay gaps represent a major source of inequality for women.
Application of Course Material
From a sociological perspective, gender inequality, such as the pay gap, exists due to social differentiation. Social differentiation is simply marking specific personal characteristics as important (Reskin & Bielby, 2005). For example, people differentiate people depending on the animals they like, their color, marital status, favorite music, gender, and even birth cohorts. The impulse to differentiate people is automatic, and its goal is to reduce cognitive load. However, social differentiation does not always lead to differential treatment or inequality. It is just a precursor to social stratification, or segregation, where resources are distributed based on personal characteristics (Reskin & Bielby, 2005). Such stratification also determines the privileges of a person within that given society. All societies use gender as a marker for social stratification, which often leads to unequal treatment and, consequently, gender inequality.
Sociological theories suggest that gender segregation contributes to the gender wage gap. The segregation theory suggests that stratification based on gender imposes limits to which spaces a certain gender can occupy (Tyrowiz & der Velde, 2021). Often these limits have a spillover effect even to those spaces where there are no gender limits, such as employees. On the other hand, the feminization theory suggests that since women are considered of lower status, they tend to receive lower wages or occupy those spaces or professions that match their status. It is likely that women may occupy lower positions due to such restrictions, which means that they are unlikely to earn the same wage as men regardless of their occupation (Tyrowiz & der Velde, 2021). However, the taste-based theory suggests that men are paid more due to their privileged status. The goal of paying men more is to compensate them for the discomfort they feel when they share working spaces with women (Hirsch & Mueller, 2014).
However, what is often overlooked is the role of social capital in the gender pay gap. Women, unlike men, tend to have social capital deficits due to either social or physical segregation. As such, women are less likely to know managers or other authority figures and thus are unable to have better-negotiating opportunities, even if they are in similar positions as men (Collischon & Eberl, 2021). Due to social capital deficit, women are likely to experience a return deficit relative to men in similar positions. Furthermore, the lack of social capital means that women are likely to have lower career advancement opportunities, which translates to lower positions in the organization (Collischon & Eberl, 2021). If women occupy lower positions, then the likelihood that there will be a gender gap when one computes the average wage for women and men in the same organization.
The article allows us to appreciate that the gender pay gap remains prevalent despite the structural changes that have occurred in the last five decades. Developed countries such as Britain, Australia, and the United States have legislation that prohibits any form of gender discrimination. According to Holpuch (2022), the average pay of a woman working full time is 7.9% less in the UK, and 7.7% less in the US, compared to the salary of men working full time. These figures suggest that gender segregation, and stratification, which is associated with preferential treatment of men to the detriment of women, remains a common problem in contemporary society. If the figures represent the salary gaps between gender in the same position, then it is rational to conclude that gender segregation and stratification remains a major impediment to wage equality.
Sociological Significance of the Issue
The gender wage gap is of particular sociological significance as it helps perpetuate gender inequality. Such wage gaps erode women’s earning potential, thus reducing their ability to meet their basic needs. Furthermore, the gender wage gap erodes women’s welfare and empowerment. Women’s ownership of productive resources and assets strengthens the bargaining power of women in their communities and households, thus increasing their participation in decision-making (Cuberes & Teignier, 2016). The participation of women in decision-making in households and communities has been correlated with better household wellbeing. Gender wage gaps effectively erode women’s ownership of productive resources, such as financial resources, which further erodes their ability to participate in household decision-making (Cuberes & Teignier, 2016; Danquah et al., 2021). Last and importantly, the gender wage gap may thwart the developmental outcomes of women and their families. The reason is that economic inequality increases the vulnerability of women, making them vulnerable to exploitation and victimization (Danquah et al., 2021).
While developed countries have made tremendous progress in reducing the gender wage gap, there is evidence that it remains a common phenomenon in society. The newspaper article shows that women tend to earn less than men in similar positions. One of the potential reasons for this phenomenon is social stratification, which leads to differential treatment of men and women. Bridging the wage gap is critical to ensure that the developmental goals of women are met. Furthermore, bridging the gap would allow women to control more productive resources, including financial resources, thus giving them more bargaining power in the household. The participation of women in communities and households is positively correlated with better household wellbeing.
Collischon, M., & Eberl, A. (2021). Social capital as a partial explanation for gender wage gaps. The British Journal of Sociology, 73(3), 757-773.
Cuberes, D., & Teignier, M. (2016). Aggregate effects of gender gaps in the labor market: A quantitative estimate. Journal of Human Capital, 10(1), 1-32.
Danquah, M., Iddrisu, A., Boakye, E., & Owusu, S. (2021). Do gender wage differences within households influence women’s empowerment and welfare? Evidence from Ghana. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organisation, 188(1), 916-932.
Hirsch, B., & Mueller, S. (2014). Firm leadership and the gender pay gap: Do active owners discriminate more than hired managers? Journal of Labour Market Research, 47(1-2), 129-142.
Holpuch, A. (2022, March 9). Twitter bot highlights the gender pay gap one company at a time. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/09/business/pay-gap-international-womens-day-twitter.html
Reskin, B., & Bielby, D. (2005). A sociological perspective on gender and career outcomes. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(1), 71-86.
Tyrowiz, J., & der Velde, L. (2021). When opportunity knocks: Confronting theory and empirics about dynamics of gender wage inequality. Social Indicators Research, 115, 837-864.