Income inequality

Women get paid less, for doing a given job, than men are; often, indeed, even when the woman is doing it better than the man. This is but the most glaring and obvious of the ways in which the world treats men more kindly than women, so it seems worth describing (such as I know how to of) how we got into this mess. Most of the story also accounts for the diverse other inequalities that our society imposes on us, but I initially wrote this as part of an essay on privilege (before it got too big to fit in a sub-section), which has likely had some influence on where I've focussed my attention.

Girls and boys

I've seen some evidence that there's at least some inate difference between how boys and girls tend to behave; but I've seen overwhelming evidence that the culture I live in treats girls and boys dramatically differently (and I'm fairly sure the same is true of many other cultures), to the point where I have no reservations at all in saying that the difference in how we are raised makes far more contribution, than anything inate, to the differences in behaviour that I see between boys and girls, between men and women.

Girls and boys are praised for different things, forgiven for different sins, kept safe from different threats, encouraged towards and discouraged from different activities, given different presents and talked about and to in different terms. Their elders (particularly the kids only a few years older) tell boys and girls different lies, punish them in different ways for different things, befriend or ostracise them on different grounds and play different games with them. Some activities are characterised as girly, others as boyish, and boys are teased for engaging in the former, girls for the latter. Being friends with boys is expected of boys, and with girls of girls, but crossing over draws attention, from their elders (foreshadowing the expected significance of such friendships later in life), that makes an unduly big deal of (and so discourages and distorts) such friendships. Faced with different expectaions and treatment, they respond with different behaviours, that tend to reinforce the differences in expectations; and the response of their elders to the different behaviours tends to reinforce the difference of treatment.

Their elders tend to be oblivious to how differently they treat boys and girls, or to justify the differences they're aware of in terms of the behaviour of the girls and boys, without noticing themselves applying different standards due to having different expectations. To their elders, then, it appears as if the whole difference between boys and girls arises from the girls and boys themselves.

The differences in treatment influence which talents children develop to what degree, which activities they take efforts to be good at, which of their attributes they seek to enhance. Boy strong and brave, girl pretty and cautious; girl quiet and obedient, boy assertive and confident; boys don't cry, girls are emotional; girls enjoy dressing up, boys enjoy fighting; boys play at war and with machines, girls play at motherhood and with dollies. The stereotypes go on and on, each generation encouraging their continuation, each growing up into women and men ready to fill different rôles in life, whether or not those rôles are even accessible to them, much less ones in which they would actually be happy.

Mommas and Poppas

In past centuries most cultures left the care of children to mothers; which meant that men's work had to bring in enough to suffice to enable a couple to raise a family. Keeping a home habitable, preparing meals (usually including tending the garden that produced most of the food) and keeping an eye on children (before schools took care of them by day) added up to full-time work, leaving little time for any work that might supplement the family's income; which meant that any such work always was a supplement to an income that mostly sufficed, and mostly produced goods in which every household was mostly self-sufficient, making it hard to fetch a good price. As a result, women's work was seldom well paid. The need to be ready for those different lives and expectations made a big contribution to the differences in what their upbringings encourage in boys and girls; though our economies have changed dramatically in the last century or two, cultural inertia (notably including that in the culture that older children propagate to younger, which tends to be overlooked by adults) tends to preserve those differences in expectation and treatment.

Of course, not every little girl wants to grow up to be a mother and not every little boy wants to grow up to be a father; but cultures that didn't encourage (and most actively pressured folk into) those rôles, if any such ever existed, got unsurprisingly swamped by ones that did (and, apparently, they more they did so, the more they swamped those that did so less). So the treatment of children tends to prepare them for parenthood, even in cultures that don't actively pressure adults towards parenthood. Modern economies can support families without the sharp division of labour of the past, but inertia slows movement away from the old habits.

That inertia is still, for couples that do chose to raise children, reinforced by some minor vestiges of the cause of how things were. The practicalities of raising a family do still leave a mother with little choice but to take at least some time away from work – to give birth and recover from doing so – so that a couple intending to have a family attend more closely to finding a situation in which the father is well paid than to finding one in which the mother is, since they must forego her income for a time at least (except in civilised jurisdictions that have lately adopted a policy of paid parental leave, and even there some imbalance typically remains); so the couples who intend to raise children put more pressure on the job market to pay men well than to pay women well.

Unfair pay

The greater assertiveness inculcated in boys and the greater willingness, inculcated in girls, to make sacrifices for others tends to lead to the men being more willing to demand more pay than the women; which contributes to the men being better paid, even when the men and women aren't skewing thier choices of job in ways that, within a couple, attend less to how she is paid than to how he is paid. As long as men typically are better paid, and recruited into better paid jobs, employers are apt to (even when they don't intend to be biassed, which some plainly do) be more willing to give men pay rises or hire them into better-paid jobs.

As long as we continue treating boys and girls differently, thereby raising them to behave differently and prefer different activities, different lines of work shall appeal to the women and men they grow up into, that are apt (roughly, at least) to match the lines of work historically done by one or the other; and the recruitment processes for jobs tend to select for traits common among those who aready do those jobs, even when those traits make marginal difference to (or, at times, actively impede) proficiency in them; so the well-paid jobs continue recruiting men and the poorly-paid ones continue to recruit women.

I don't claim to know how to fix the injustice this inevitably involves, but we surely need to attend to how we raise children – not just to how adults treat children, but also to how (principally older) children treat children (since this channel propagates prejudices and assumptions even when adults eschew them – children can be remarkably conservative). Of course, we also need to attend to how employers select staff – especially for management positions, since these have the greatest influence on our selection of all other positions – and how businesses decide to distribute pay (especially increases in it). We need to do that for other reasons, too.


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