a bird and a bottle

And We Think We’re So Modern
April 10, 2007, 7:09 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news, politics, reproductive justice, wider world

Via Ezra Klein – A new UN study out today shows that the gender wage gap is almost as big in the U.S. as it is in the developing world.

gender gap

I haven’t yet read the full report (it’s 40 pages and exams are drawing near) but from what I can tell based on this chart alone, it seems like four countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa do the best in terms of pay parity — one cent better per dollar than the U.S.! How’s that for a rude awakening?! The place in the world that is probably most closely associated with gender inequality based on religion (Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc.) pays women better than we do in the U.S., in all our enlightened glory.

Am I reading this right? Can anyone (who has or has not read the fully study) challenge this assumption, or explain it? My curiosity is piqued.


4 Comments so far
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I haven’t read the study either, but an explanation for the Middle Eastern anomaly could be labor participation. The wage gap is only among people who are already employed. As more women enter the labor force, they typically take low-paid jobs, widening the wage gap; that’s why the US wage gap increased in the 1960s. Similarly, in Iraq the wage gap is inverted, but women have a far lower labor participation rate.

Presumably, liberated women are likely to be middle- or upper-class, especially in areas where cultural conservatism is strongest among the poor, such as the Middle East. While the wage gap tends to get worse as one’s class status increases, the correlation between social liberalism and class can outweigh it in those countries with small middle classes.

For what it’s worth, the one real democracy in the Middle East has a shitty representation of women in its legislature. Israel’s proportion of female members of Knesset isn’t much lower than the USA’s proportion of female members of Congress, but Congress is elected in a winner-take-all system, which depresses the percentage of women relative to Israel’s proportional representation. Iraq has an, I believe, 25% female legislature, but that’s due to a constitutionally mandated quota; meanwhile, Finland, which has no quotas, has a proportion of women in the 30s.

Comment by Alon Levy

And now that I’m reading the study, what I said looks about right. The graph Ezra pulled is on page 50 in the PDF. On page 51, there’s another graph, which compares earnings, which I’m pretty sure control for labor participation. The industrialized world drops from 80% to 57%, behind the ex-Soviet bloc’s 59% and East Asia’s 62%, but well ahead of the Middle East’s 28%.

That, and the “22 industrialized countries” included in Ezra’s chart exclude the US.

Comment by Alon Levy

Alon, good points all. I think your point about the cause of the narrower wage gap in the Middle East is probably right. If fewer women are working, and thus fewer women are working in lower-wage jobs, there will be less of a wage differential.

I think in Israel – a democracy with religious roots – there are complicating factors. Not necessarily in terms of congressional representation (or representation in the Knesset). What I mean is, there are more factors other than the elected government that shape women’s participation, including b’eit din. Do you think that plays a role in how/if women are represented in government (above the quota)?

Comment by bean

I don’t know… it might depress women’s political activism at the local level; even excluding religious parties, there are strikingly few female members of Knesset. Now that you mention it, it makes a lot of sense that in a very religious culture, there will be fewer women willing to run for office. It’s not necessarily the divorce laws themselves, but the same religious culture underlies both.

On the other hand, if I had to identify one factor that makes Israeli society more sexist than it should be, it’d probably be the emphasis on military service.

Comment by Alon Levy

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