Girly Jobs and Low Pay

My social security statements are an embarrassment. I've worked since I was 18, but my yearly income is poverty level. In college, I worked in the dishroom at the dining room and as a secretary in a valve company. I've had jobs in publishing, special education, academia, and journalism. I've also been an at-home mom, which is a job, FYI. 

Like many women, I was attracted to creative and caretaking jobs. I could have gone into finance (720 on the Math GREs and 750 on the analytic, baby), but I didn't. I wasn't interested. A great post by Nancy Folbre in the New York Times's Economix tells me that I'm not alone.

… Nicole Fortin,
at economist at the University of British Columbia, finds that women
tend to place less importance on money and more importance on people and
family than men do…

Both biological and cultural factors can explain attitudinal
differences between women and men. In our society, caring for others has
long been considered an essential aspect of femininity (social
psychologists devote considerable effort to measuring
such things). And sometimes women don’t choose girly jobs, but end up
in them because they face discrimination or harassment in other jobs.

Caring often entails commitments to dependents such as young
children, adults with disabilities or the frail elderly who can’t afford
to pay directly for the services provided. It doesn’t fit easily into
the impersonal logic of fee for service or supply and demand.

We need caretakers in our society. Not everybody can be employed by the Bank of Evil. We really do need people who care for toddlers and old people. Educating children well has long term benefits for all of society. As Folbre says, "Good care helps create – and maintain – good people."

Instead of pushing women into lucrative jobs, caretaking work needs more respect and a bigger paycheck.


10 thoughts on “Girly Jobs and Low Pay

  1. People always say this — bankers are evil, lawyers are sharks, teachers are caretakers, academics are idealistic, . . . .
    I don’t believe any of it. I think that most people respond to incentives (with certain types of incentives potentially differing among people who chose different professions).
    I think the key issue in the “caretaking” professions is that the caretakers are serving people “who *can’t* afford to pay directly for the services provided.” As long as that’s the case, the professions will remain underpaid. And, I don’t see how that’s not going to be the case. Doctors seem to have, historically, the best model, through systems where people prepaid for services, with the assumption that they would only rarely need services. I think that model is breaking down as people require more and more routine healthcare (that they can’t pay).
    I’ve started to read the VAM (Value Added Measurements) literature for K-12 teaching, a girly profession for which I have a great deal of respect. It’s an attempt to put in the logic of free market, purchase for value. I’m reading the literature with a very open mind, because I consider the value of the measures to be an empirical question. But, in the policy making, I can see that the fact that the measures are going to be used to buy services for the powerless (i.e. children) with other people’s money (not the children’s) is going to be a fundamental flaw.

  2. I think the key issue in the “caretaking” professions is that the caretakers are serving people “who *can’t* afford to pay directly for the services provided.”
    I’m not sure that explains much of it. When parents pay directly for the education of their kids, the quality of the education has often been improved, but the pay for the teachers is often lower than the tax-supported teachers. Nannies are not noted for being well paid, despite most of them being employed directly.

  3. Anyway, there are jobs that are evil-ish and disproportionately held by women. I’m thinking of human resources and dry cleaning.

  4. “bj, did you see the LA Times article on measuring the value of teaching?”
    Yes, though I found the article kind of unbearable. I’ve tracked down a number of researcher papers (the CALDER project at the Urban Institute and the NCEE manuscripts) that get into the nitty gritty of VAM analysis for the empirical work. I think that those manuscripts still ignore certain issues (for example, most of the current analyses use VAM scores calculated from low-stakes testing — making those same tests high-stakes changes the relationships. There’s also a huge amount of variability in implementation — because the North Carolina test worked in producing some validity to VAM scores doesn’t mean that the Washington test will, too). In spite of that, I want to understand the details in getting into the debate.
    “Nannies are not noted for being well paid, despite most of them being employed directly.”
    The key here is that they can’t *afford* to pay for the services, not just that they aren’t paying directly for the services. I’ll guess though with nannies one of the wage suppression effects result from the non-paid labor that can replace the paid labor (i.e. moms). The same might presumably be true for other caring professions. And then, we can connect that back to the issues being faced by journalists, photographers, and writers, that the work they do is sometimes offered for free by others.

  5. At least part of the problem is that “creative and caretaking” jobs — to the extent that they are more enjoyable than finance — give non-financial rewards. If that job that you really want pays the same as that boring job in finance, why the heck would anyone go into finance?
    Also, there could be a perverse effect of increasing pay in careers where people generally “don’t do it for the money.” Nobody pays for blood donations anymore, in part, because people stopped donating when it became about “$50” instead of “helping the sick.”
    Teachers and nurses make middle class wages. Lower trained caretakers and aides make less. There are not shortages of people wanting any of these positions. I’m not exactly sure who should be shelling out so that they can earn more.

  6. bj, interesting that the stakes of the standardized tests change the VAM analysis–although I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, what with all those psychology experiments about how you can affect how well people do on tests through priming.
    The LA Times article was interesting. And while I’m not sure that VAM is the cure to what’s ailing LA schools here (and the nation as a whole), and it’s not perfect–surely, there needs to be some method of evaluating and identifying teachers who might need improvement.

  7. “Wendy, did you see the LA Teachers’ head calling for a boycott of the LA Times because they were measuring the value of teachers? ”
    Although the boycott is silly — boycotting a newspaper ’cause they report information is not a useful ploy, I think the LA Teacher’s Union head is calling for a boycott of the LA times because they are *not* measuring the value of teachers, but are instead posting a newly calculated measure that the Times believes is somehow correlated with teacher value, but that they surely haven’t proven.
    LMC — I think that evaluating teachers who need improvement is a difficult process, that requires actually looking at what the teachers are doing, and seeing how it might fail to contribute to their students’ learning. I think relying on statistical calculations as diagnostics (instead of identifying what the teachers are doing wrong) is unlikely to be useful unless it is highly correlated with the underlying value you’re trying to measure (good teaching). Actually, saying that means that I have developed an opinion (I wasn’t sure yet). But, I think that opinion still depends on the statistical evidence — If the measures were highly correlated with the underlying value we are trying to measure, VAM scores might be useful. Reading the literature doesn’t come anywhere close to convincing me of that (and the LA Times FAQ was terrible).
    I think there’s a reform movement that’s pushing for using VAM scores because they think it will be a quick and not too dirty way of evaluating teachers (I’m not sure why, because do we also believe that testing ended up being a quick and not too dirty way of evaluating students?). But, I don’t think there’s a quick way of getting what we want. I also think that we are hoping that teachers will have a bigger effect than they really can (that the difference between a good and bad teacher, really, and not statistically) is more substantial than it really is.
    I do agree that some of the measures that are currently used (credentialing of various forms, most notably online degrees) aren’t good, though. And, I think the data is showing that.

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