Wages get a bump, thanks to women entering the workforce

June 5, 2017
Contact: Morgan Sherburne morganls@umich.edu

 Illustration of technology and scienceIllustration of technology and science Image Credit: Kaitlyn BeukemaANN ARBOR—The future is female—at least in regards to employment in the science, technology, engineering and math field.

In a study that examines the changing nature of jobs as well as their economic value, economists at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research have found that pay has risen by about 22 percent across the current generation of men and women ages 30 to 55 compared to their parents.

This is in large part thanks to women entering the workforce in droves compared to their mothers, and landing in the well-paid fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

“Women are going from not just washing dishes at home to washing dishes at a restaurant—they’re going from staying at home, some of them highly educated women, to becoming business managers or STEM workers,” said Frank Stafford, an economist in the ISR Survey Research Center, who led the study.

Stafford’s study examined categories of jobs for both men and women, which he and co-author Ping Li of the South China Normal University ranked from one to 26. In order to take women who are homemakers into account, the economists assigned that unpaid duty a value of one. On the other end of the spectrum were positions in the medical, legal or STEM fields.

Stafford and Li found that 43 percent of men moved to an occupation with more highly ranked pay than their fathers—but 43 percent of men also moved to occupations with lower ranked pay than their fathers. That movement was eclipsed by women, who entered the workforce at much higher rates than their mothers, 44 percent of whom considered themselves homemakers.

Jobs for men and women in computer, mathematical, information technology, and life, physical and social sciences occupations have experienced the largest increases. Now, 4 percent of men are employed in computer and mathematical occupations, compared to 1.2 percent of their fathers, and, more broadly to include the sciences, 9.1 percent of men are employed in STEM fields, compared to 7.6 percent of their fathers.

Women made the most gains in these fields. They tripled their rate of employment in computer and mathematical occupations, from 0.48 percent of mothers employed in computer and mathematical occupations compared to 1.3 percent of their daughters. They also more than tripled their employment in STEM fields, with 3.8 percent of the daughters employed in STEM compared to 0.9 percent of their mothers.

Thanks to these women’s gains in employment, the economic value of women’s work has crept up compared to men’s. However, the average value of the jobs women hold mimics the wage gap: about 80 percent of men’s jobs.

The study also found—no surprise here—the rates of both men and women employed in the manufacturing industry are in great decline. About 6.7 percent of men ages 30 to 55 were employed in the manufacturing industry while between 13 and 14 percent of their fathers held manufacturing jobs. Women’s occupations follow a similar pattern. About 3.5 percent of women ages 30 to 55 work manufacturing jobs, compared to 6.3 percent of their mothers.

Stafford says partly why men may move to lower paying jobs compared to their fathers is a question of self-exclusion: When manufacturing jobs are no longer available, men tend to elect traditionally male jobs such as simple maintenance and groundskeeping that don’t pay as well as similar jobs in health care, such as a certified nurse assistant or other work.

“When they move out of production compared to their dads, they move into these traditional guy jobs, pushing those wages down,” Stafford said. “There’s this big growing sector of health care support, but they say ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that—that’s women’s work.’ They self-exclude from these newly emerging fields.”

For people to have good opportunity to enter the STEM fields, Stafford says training for these kinds of positions needs to happen early.

“There’s certainly going to be a lot more technology, and a lot more jobs available in technology. That’s going to lead to economic growth, but very unequal economic growth, unless you start training these kids early and intensively in quantitative and creative reasoning,” he said. “A 50-year-old person getting displaced from a traditional manufacturing or production job is probably not going to be able to do computer programming in a new world of production or other occupation.”

Stafford and Li’s study examined the employment data of 2,522 men and 3,173 women taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has surveyed more than 5,000 families about their employment, income, wealth, health, childbearing and development, and education since 1968.


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