What is “Women’s work” and why is it paid so little?

Illustration by   Noa Snir     for LennyLetter

Illustration by Noa Snir for LennyLetter

By Aditi Shrikant

For the past year, my Twitter feed has been littered with news of women’s accomplishments in STEM fields and programs encouraging women to pursue higher paying careers that have historically been male dominated. This coverage led me to believe that women were, overall, making more money and that perhaps the wage gap had shrunk. 

However, according to a New York Magazine article, gender income equality has not improved significantly since 2007. Reasons for this may be that within the STEM field women earn 86 cents for every dollar that men earn, and according to a new report by Oxfam America and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, of the 23.5 million people working low-wage jobs in the United States, 19 million are women. 

Women tend to work in low-wage jobs that are historically seen as “women’s work” and because of this characterization, are paid less. Jobs include cooking, cleaning, serving, caring for people and being assistants in offices and businesses. Aside from gendered jobs being a damaging stereotype, “women’s work” jobs also require just as much physical labor as “men’s work,” along with emotional labor and postsecondary education in many cases. Men with similar education and skills are more likely to land jobs that pay more and provide more opportunities, according to the Oxfam America report. 

Even when men and women work the same low-wage jobs, the income gap is significant. (According to Narrow the Gapp, women janitors earn 78 cents of every dollar male janitors earn and women housekeepers earn 86 cents of every dollar male housekeepers earn).

Women in low-income jobs tend to be of color or immigrants, and 12.3% of them use wages to be the sole provider for their families, where as men in low income jobs are only half as likely to be a single parent. By 2024, low-wage women’s jobs will increase at one and a half times the rate of all other jobs and one in six of all jobs will be in low-wage women’s work. So, how do we ensure that wages are fair in this growing segment of jobs?

Here are a few policies put forth by the Oxfam America and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research report that you can support: 

1. Raise the minimum wage to $15

2. Implement family and sick leave policies

3. Increase public subsidies for childcare 

As inspiring as it is to read about the latest woman-founded start up, we need to remember that there is still a lot of work to be done. By being an advocate for those of all education levels and pushing for policy change, we can increase the financial state of all women—not just the ones on our Twitter feed.  

Aditi is a Brooklyn-based writer whose goals are to eliminate mansplainers along with the top sheet. As an editor at Mommy Nearest, she helps millennial moms navigate their newfound parenthood by directing them to the best kid-friendly parks, museums and, sometimes, happy hours. You can follow her on Twitter @Aditi_Shrikant or Instagram @ashrikant

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