Yasemin Besen-Cassino, a professor of sociology, tackles the gender wage gap in her newly published book, “The Cost of Being A Girl.” The book provides insight into the pay discrepancy that many girls and women face that could affect college students entering the work force. This topic of gender wage gap comes at a time when women movements are arising, such as #MeToo and Time’s Up.
Q: In your book, you state that gender wage gap in the workplace starts at the early age of 14 and 15. Why does this type of inequality start at this age?
A: Well, I thought to myself, ‘If I think all the way back, can I pinpoint that point where there is perfect equality?’ And most of the common theories, the top theories, are either the occupational gender segregation approach – so you look at men and women, they work for different sectors, that’s why they get paid differently – or the human capital approach, [women] get paid differently because their qualifications are different. And I thought, ‘Can I go all the way back where none of these are a problem? Can I control these naturally like a social laboratory?’ And when they are 12 and 13, they make the exact amount of money but once they get to be 14 and 15, you see the emergence of the first wage gap.
What I find is that some of the personal characteristics make a difference, age makes it worst [and] race plays a big role. African-American girls experience a wider wage gap. But, more importantly, it’s the types of jobs. So when we are 12 and 13, there are not that many jobs available to us, most of the time freelance. But, girls usually stay in freelance jobs while boys move into employee jobs. And that is the origin of the wage gap.
Q: Are girls’ jobs often more maternal occupations than boys’?
A: [Yes] like babysitting. In babysitting, [girls] usually get the jobs through informal networks and they are taught, ‘We really need you to stay in this job.’ And a lot of them stay, and when they started, they would babysit one child, and as the family grows, now they have two or three children, but their pay remains the same.
Q: Is it different for boys?
A: It is much different for boys. There are a lot of boys who do babysitting today. They are really actually sought after to babysit boys. The difference that I saw between boys and girls babysitting is boys’ times are valued. So they are paid more, they are not asked to do extra stuff [like girls] who are usually asked to do a load of laundry or errands. And their time is valued so they don’t have any unpaid time. For example, before and after a session, the mother would speak with the girls but not the boys. It’s a completely different experience of the same job.
Q: Women currently make 82 cents to every man’s dollar. Why do you think this gap has remained even though the last couple of decades, women have been paid more?
A: Actually, a couple of years ago, a colleague and I did a special report on the case of New Jersey. We found that actually, the higher-up women went [in their positions], the wider the gap. It is partially because…. [many women] said that they did not know how much a position paid for. So, we advocated for more transparency in positions because it’s not that women don’t negotiate, it’s that they don’t know how much a job pays for. While as men, through a man’s network, know exactly how much the position pays for and ask [it]. So it’s important to know how much a position pays for when you are applying for a job.
Q: Why are women paid less than men? Is it because women are more of a risk factor?
A: We internalize this idea that women are paid less because they have children or get pregnant. I wanted to get rid of those [ideas] and find a group of workers where they don’t have kids, spouses or housework to see what happens. It’s almost like this natural lavatory where we can get rid of all those factors and [yet] we still see the bias in hiring [and] job placement.
Q: What should women do if they learn that they are being paid unfairly?
A: I think that most of the time when we talk about inequality, we put the responsibility on the individual women. However, instead of doing that, I think we need to start putting the responsibility on the employers who are doing the hiring and doing the paying and audit them to make sure that they are providing a fair environment.
Q: Even though the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are aimed toward preventing sexual harassment and assaults in the workplace, do you think these movements will help create change for pay discrepancy, too?
A: Absolutely. Actually, in my book, I have noticed several cases with some people that I have spoken to said that in earlier jobs they experience a lot of harassment, but they wouldn’t report it because [that] wasn’t their real job. And one of the things I mentioned, just like the paid equality, we normalize and socialize girls into the problems of the workforce.
Q: Do you think as time goes on, pay discrepancy will be unnormalized?
A: Yes, of course. Already we are seeing countries banning this and corporations making it illegal. And I think that it is better for them, too. People are more productive and happier….and you won’t be sued.