The US Department of Labor Women’s Bureau shows current trends in women’s employment. Despite research that shows a persistent wage gap for women and people of color even when studies compare women and men with the same background and qualifications (that is, they are not comparing men who have always worked full time with women of the same age who may have taken time off to raise children), there is a popular conception that most of the wage gap can be explained through personal choices. While the wage gap shrinks when adjustments are made for differences in choices, it does not disappear.
You can read more about this distinction here: Racial, gender wage gaps persist in U.S. despite some progress and Why Women Must Ask (The Right Way): Negotiation Advice From Stanford’s Margaret A. Neale.
The question raised by Sociology is, when is a choice truly a choice, and when is it not? What are all of the elements that lead to a wage gap, and which of them are entirely within an individual’s control?
To explore this question as it pertains to gender and work, design a fictional family and trace the working lives of its adult members.
- Your family should have two adults of working age, though they do not have to live in the same household, may be different genders or the same gender, and do not necessarily have to be spouses or ex-spouses (you could have a multi-generational household, for example). You can decide if your household includes children or other relatives. The only hard and fast rule is that this household needs two adults of working age.
- Explain which factors sociological research suggest will impact their earning potential (use this week’s reading for information). Think intersectionally as well as in terms of gender alone.
- Describe the choices each has made (you are making this part up) that has further impacted earning and career success (positively or negatively). Are those choices typical or atypical for the gender of each adult?
- What has the actual impact of those choices been on the trajectory of their working lives and earning potential (you will be making this part up, obviously)?
- What can Sociology tell us about the factors that led them to the decisions they made? What are some of the societal forces that may have guided those decisions? Why is it hard to resist those forces? What would we need to make sure that everyone has the chance to choose the shape of her or his working life freely?
You could write a book on these fictional characters, but there is no need! Instead, focus on a few elements that seem to you to be most important or interesting in explaining how their working lives come to have the shape they do.
This post should be at least 200 words.