A Life of Service: For Love, Money or Both?

The recession may not only be changing household budgets and habits, but also challenging longstanding gender roles.

The New York Times reported that 82 percent of the job losses in the recent months have befallen men. For many households this means that women who once were full-time homemakers are now switching to be full-time career-women as their husbands are getting laid off.

Although not thrilled that their husband has lost his job and the family income has taken a nose-dive, women are finding opportunity in the situation, fulfilling personal desires and career goals. Others however aregreat_mom not entirely sold on the idea that they will be both the main breadwinner and caregiver in the family. And of course there are the many women who have been doing the balancing act between motherhood and career woman for plenty of years. For most, there has been a battle between guilt for leaving their child for a job, or guilt for choosing to stay with their child instead of taking a job. With more layoffs, comes even more pressure.

Last week in The New York Times Sunday business section there was an article and graph that caught my eye entitled “Why is Her Paycheck Smaller?” As an obvious advocate for parity of pay between women and men, I stopped my page flipping to check it out.

I knew already from government stats that women in full-time jobs make 80 cents to the man’s dollar. But I was not prepared to see this set out before me in a graph … the visual cold hard facts. What I saw was not okay.

In jobs such as education administrators, marketing and sales managers, real estate brokers and retail sales, women actually earn 30% less than their male counterparts (70 cents to the man’s dollar)! In other industries such as advertising, finance and food service, women are earning 20% less. Teaching, bookkeeping and waiting tables, 10% less. The only areas where the graph showed parity of pay? Postal service and shipping clerks, data entry keyers, ticket agents and special education teachers.

The graph showed me that in most industries, women are earning between 10 to 35% less than men. Oooh la, la. This was shocking.

Obama_FairPayActFortunately, in its first week, the new Administration made pay equity and fairness to women in the workplace a priority. On January 29 President Obama signed a bill, the very first bill of the new Administration, expanding a worker’s right to sue for wage inequalities to push employers to reduce gender discrimination. “It stiffens penalties for employers who discriminate based on gender and it protects employees from retaliation for sharing salary information,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and chief sponsor of the bill.

While the bill helps women move toward salary equity in the workplace, it does not address a bigger question on my mind: What are we going to do about the service sector jobs that pay incredibly lower rates than management and business positions?

I bring this up because the current reality is that more women work in the service sector where wages are low and more men work in management and business where wages are higher. Pre-recession, a family could have been earning $200,000 from the husband’s management position combined with his wife’s work as a full-time teacher, for example. Now that same family is living off of $35,000. Another family that was earning $300,000 from the husband’s financial services job is now living off $30,000 without any health insurance or unemployment insurance from the wife’s two part-time jobs as a medical assistant and bookkeeper.

I suppose I am digging into a few issues here, but it all concerns me. Let’s look at it this way: Numbers show that most women are working in the areas of education, health care and other service industries. How about we place a higher value on service work? What I mean by that is more take-home dollars for the teachers of your children and the nurses who help us heal.

What are your thoughts?

How can we do this?

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Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.

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4 thoughts on “A Life of Service: For Love, Money or Both?

  1. This is a tough issue because we are asking both the heath care and education sectors – already financially stressed – to come up with more money for workers. Workers deserve better pay and benefits – but where will the funding come from?

  2. The pay disparity shows how little we value what more women than men do, which are usually in education and care giving. These are the jobs that are “taken for granted.” Riane Eisler talks about creating a new world view where we create a caring economy, re-evaluating the jobs women do and giving proper credit and pay to them for their importance. Patriarchy strikes again!

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