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‘Gender gap’ may be more about motherhood than sex, says sociologist

February 24th, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

LOGAN—It’s called the gender gap.

But Christy Glass, a professor of sociology at Utah State University, has found that this the gender gap is really an economic divide, prevalent in societies across the globe. It’s not just about sex—it’s about motherhood.

“There’s growing awareness among scholars that a lot of what we have assumed are gender disparities, or differences between men and women, in terms of wages, promotions or access to jobs, is actually not gender-based, but motherhood-based,” Glass said.

When researchers removed mothers from gender-wage statistics there was very little difference in earnings, Glass said. When mothers were factored in, there was a much larger discrepancy in their salaries.

Beth Kiester, a sociology doctoral student and graduate instructor, has been working with Glass since 2008. Kiester has found that men with children do not face the same discrimination as mothers.

“Men with children are not only not penalized,” Kiester said, “but they benefit.”

“We’re looking at a more mental level,” Kiester said. “We’re looking at what the employers are actually doing — what the employers are actually thinking.”

Kiester said they have decided to conduct their study in this manner because it offers a better answer to why there is a wage discrepancy amongst the genders than statistics and data.

Both of Glass’ studies were conducted out of the country and in the global job market. Glass chose to conduct her study in Budapest, Hungary, because it became a “mini capital” for global finance.

For four years Glass interviewed Hungarian employers on how they recruited.

Hungary’s recruiters worked to hire both men and women, but when women had children or are “at risk for having children, they tend to seek out ways to shed them from their labor force,” Glass said.

“My findings were really actually startling,” Glass said. “I had a lot of people tell me that employers wouldn’t be honest about their discriminatory practices, but I found that employers were extremely forthcoming.”

While it is illegal in Hungary for employers to discriminate against women because they had children, many employers did not heed the law, Glass said. The laxity with which employers reported their discriminatory practices was evidence of how poorly the anti-discrimination law was enforced, Glass said.

“All employment is discriminatory,” Kiester said. “Whenever you hire somebody, you’re choosing them over somebody else… It’s when it becomes problematic that we care. So, if a woman or a mother or a father or a veteran are having wages reduced, then we find that problematic.”

Kiester is currently in the process of replicating Glass’s Hungary study in the U.S.

“I think there’s a climate of political correctness in the United States,” Kiester said. “That may make it difficult to replicate.”

It is too early to tell whether employer’s motivations will be similar for firing or not hiring mothers as they were in Hungary, Kiester said.

Kiester is a working mother and said she has not felt discrimination because of the status.

“When we see highly standardized, highly formalized job searches and recruitment practices we tend to see significantly less discrimination,” said Glass.


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