The American Economic Review was sitting in my mailbox this morning. Yes, I do realize I’m pretty much the last economist on earth to still receive hard copy journals, but don’t knock it ’til you try it.
The converging roles of men and women are among the grandest advances in society and the economy in the last century. These aspects of the grand gender convergence are figurative chapters in a history of gender roles. But what must the “last” chapter contain for there to be equality in the labor market? The answer may come as a surprise. The solution does not (necessarily) have to involve government intervention and it need not make men more responsible in the home (although that wouldn’t hurt). But it must involve changes in the labor market, in particular how jobs are structured and remunerated to enhance temporal flexibility. The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours. Such change has taken off in various sectors, such as technology, science and health, but is less apparent in the corporate, financial and legal worlds.
Given the nature of the debate over the past few months on equal pay legislation and other forms of labor market discrimination against women, and more importantly against individuals that don’t conform to the two-gender paradigm, to claim that the gender convergence is in its last chapter seems a little short-sighted. But she’s a historian and a very smart economic historian at that, having written a book, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, which I recommend frequently to economics majors interested in labor and gender. The article is essentially an extension of the book’s arguments, this time concentrating on occupational differences.
It’s a good read and would be great for students. In fact, perhaps I’ll have mine read it this week. Look out for their tweets!